Posts Tagged ‘Glasgow’


© Richard Campbell

Marilyn‘ at Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre, is the story of being famous and the things women had to do get there in 1960’s Hollywood.

Or, as Marilyn succinctly quips, “I guess girls like us spend a lot of time on our knees – that’s Hollywood.”

By focussing closely on the story of the world’s most famous ‘sweater girl’ and Simone Signoret, the sophisticated, intellectual actress of the day, Sue Glover‘s brilliant script provides an illuminating insight into women “working for The Studio – we all work for The Studio ultimately.”

During the summer of 1960, Marilyn Monroe and Simone Signoret live in adjacent apartments of the Beverley Hills Hotel. Thrown together while Monroe films the movie ‘Let’s Make Love‘ with Signoret’s husband, Yves Montand, the pair form an uneasy friendship, plagued by jealousy and insecurity.  Under the watchful eye of Patti, hairdresser to the stars, it becomes a relationship that tests their deepest beliefs and threaten to destroy them both.

Marilyn, as played stunningly by Frances Thorburn – even the singing is worth the ticket price alone, never mind the rest of the scintillating, vivacious, driven, cookie and disturbed performance – is portrayed as being the most ambitious of the two.  When talking about actresses of the past, she calls them “Dead, or their careers have gone dead – which is the same thing.”

Marilyn’s character twists and turns with insomnia – “Sleep – how do you do that again?” – and jealousy of her more sophisticated new friend Simone who is adored by “le tout Paris”.  She offers two renditions of “My Heart Belongs To Daddy” emphasising her ultimate devotion to the man, the studio, the cash and her ambition over friendship and loyalty.

She oscillates between wanting to Be Marilyn, the uber-pouty, pin-up girl: “I just can’t go through that door until I feel like … look like … Marilyn” and being taken seriously as a proper actress “Big ass, big tits, big deal”.

Simone, Marilyn and Yves

Even Simone, the stylish intellectual, puts all her energies into her man while her career takes a dip, waiting for the right script “You must never do stupid movies.”

Finally, when she doesn’t get the adoration she craves from her friend who ultimately wins the Oscar, Marilyn steals the one prize Simone adores above all, her husband.  But Simone’s character, as played brilliantly by the French actor, Dominique Hollier, is also hoist by her career.  At a critical point between staying to prevent Marilyn getting with her husband and flying off to a great part, she chooses to take the long-distance role.

Her anguish is palpable: “I can’t go out. If I open my mouth, it howls” and her anger towards Marilyn vitriolic: “You are milk, froth, cotton candy.”

Both characters are overseen, soothed, jollied and cajoled by the incredible down-to-earth Patti, played utterly convincingly by Pauline Knowles who ultimately lies, cheats and keeps her head down because she too works for The Studio.

The set is pure 30s glamour and glitz – silver art nouveau ornaments with white luxury cushions – and a blown up photo of dead Marilyn on the side wall.

The production (a co-production with Citizens Theatre, Glasgow) zips along with passionate intensity until Marilyn puts an end to her tortured life and is escorted into the sunset by – and here’s the curious thing – the black actor / stage manager who has been dotting in and out, moving furniture and props, clasping her shoes unto his breast tenderly and exchanging knowing smiles with her.

All along the piece, it seems like his role will develop.  He is dressed as a servant; it seems like he’s playing a role of silent black observer; as caught up in the chains of working for The Man as Marilyn, yet always operating in the shadows as her secret black companion, perhaps lover and comforter.  But the role just fizzles out.  Worse, he is conspicuous by his absence at curtain call.

When turning to the programme, he is name-checked as Barry Ford in the ‘Cast List’ but no biography or production credits are available on either the Cast, Creative Team or Staff Lists at The Lyceum or The Citizens Theatre websites or programmes.

In this post-Stephen Lawrence era, one would hope that black actors are not still being stereotyped into servant / gangster roles or worse, failing to get credit for their contributions in theatre.

Are we to believe that black people are as invisible in Scottish theatre as they were 100 years ago, or more (bar the exceptionally rare roles written by the bard and a few others)?  Are we to advise young black Scottish hopefuls that there are no jobs or roles in Scottish theatre?

On enquiry, the Lyceum Theatre states:

“Barry Ford is an Assistant Stage Manager at the Citizens Theatre. When the show was rehearsing at the Citizens the director Philip Howard decided they needed an ASM to be onstage to move the props around. Barry was available as an ASM to fulfill this for the production, and then the transfer to the Lyceum. He was in costume, in keeping with the play, which isn’t unusual as we have done this in numerous productions. The ASM aren’t included in curtain calls as they are not cast.”

Developing News

The Citizens Theatre states:

“Further to the statement made by our co-producing partners, the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, we would like to re-iterate that both companies are equal opportunities employers. Barry Forde has been an Assistant Stage Manager (ASM) at the Citizens Theatre for the last 3 years, having been recruited to the theatre through our trainee scheme. The ASM role is a technical position as part of the backstage production team. In addition to technical duties, ASM’s are frequently requested to move props on stage and take part in group scenes.  This often involves them being in costume to fit in with the action. The Director of the show requested that the ASM be involved in key scenes of Marilyn where props were required to be moved.  Whoever was the ASM on the show would have fulfilled that role. In this case it was Barry Forde and he continued in that role when the show transferred to Edinburgh.”

I would also like to explain that it is standard practice for ASM’s to not take curtain calls with the Cast as they are part of the technical team.  At the Citizens Theatre, Barry was credited as Assistant Stage Manager in our Citizens Company full staff list.  As it was not appropriate for him to be part of the Lyceum’s staff list, it was requested that he get an acknowledgement elsewhere within the production credits of the programme. That is why his name appears as it does in the Lyceum programme.  If this confused or misled we can only apologise and reiterate again that Barry is very much part of the technical team on the show.”

Yet he was clearly labelled as Cast in the programme.

What do you think is the issue?  Is it harder to get a job in theatre as a black person in Scotland?

Spencer the Painter - now a bus driver

Rodd Christensen, a Scottish-based black actor, won a BAFTA for Balamory but now drives a bus. Check here and here

© Fin Wycherley

You can also find this review on STV Edinburgh here

Show: Marilyn, Venue: Lyceum Theatre Run: 15th March – 2nd April 2011

Times: Evenings: 7.45pm Tuesdays-Saturdays Ends approx 9.40pm Matinees: 2.30pm Wednesdays and Saturdays (16, 19, 23, 26 Mar and 2 Apr) Ends approx 4.25pm

Related Articles

Joyce McMillan here

Onstage Scotland here

Lothian Life here

The List here

The Stage here

The Telegraph here

The Guardian here

The Independent here

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Sir James Guthrie's To Pastures New

Just to show how unprejudiced we be, LeithTonight paid a visit to Glasgow for the stunning ‘Glasgow Boys’ exhibition.

There’s not much time left to see it: it finishes on 27th September but it is worth the trip.

Why?  Well, it’s always nice to drive through to cheery Glasgow with the perennial west coast rain bouncing off yer windscreen.

2ndly, it’s always good, aesthetically-speaking, to get a grip on one’s own cultural and artistic national heritage.

Willie, Old Wurthy - James Guthrie

And 3rdly, the blond and I were gagging for soup but couldn’t take the queue outside the Kelvingrove Museum cafe so we dived into an incredible wee bistro right in front of the entrance.

The Pelican Cafe had only been open 15 days.  With trendy booths, a family-friendly atmosphere & fresh paint on the walls, it had already developed that most prized and rarely achieved great smell that comes from a great kitchen.

The Pelican offers such sumptualities as Ham hock & Fois Gras with home-made piccalilli, Chorizo & Leek Soup, Salmon, Crab and a veritable cornucopia of fine dining.  Two starters and two mains came to an astonishing £20 quid.

Add £7 for the fabby glasses of chilled white wine and you have two uber-sated quines-wot-lunch with only one hour to race round the exhibition before it closes, agh!

A real find.  Do go, and say LeithTonight says hi.

The Masterclass

Guthrie, A Hind's Daughter

The Glasgow Boys consist of 19 blokes and one female, Bessie MacNicol, who painted around 1870 – 1910.  Most of them were trained in, or had strong ties to the city of Glasgow.  They were passionate about realism and naturalism and were united by a hatred of the snobby Edinburgh-oriented Scottish art establishment.

The main boys consisted of Joseph CrawhallThomas Corson MortonThomas Millie DowSir James Guthrie and James Paterson and were friends who hung out and were inspired by each other. Initially, they painted in rural areas around France and the East coast of Scotland (because of the light) like Cockburnspath.

Later, they searched for the exotic in Japan and Spain, and more middle class subjects in the West coast in order to satisfy their burgeoning middle class consumers and to shift more product.

Early period

Sir John Lavery's The Goose Girls

The Glasgow Boys’ imagination was caught by cabbages.  Lots of cabbages.  They didn’t stop at cabbages.  They did cabbage patches and cabbage cutters.  All with a prosaic eye towards the realism of Scottish rural life.

Among the cabbages, you can find cottages, peasants, carpenters, gamekeeper’s daughters, high horizons with dominant figures, clogs, orchards, woodland, potato planting, hedgecutters, women that sewed (‘sewers’ just doesn’t seem right), washer women, cattle, goatherds, influences of stained glass, Glasgow International Exhibition 1888 and a whole lorra geese.

Later period

Henry and Hornel, The Druids Bringing in the Mistletoe (1890)

Pattern and design became more important than detail.  Paintings became more impressionistic with a strong influence from the frozen movement of the new photography.

While the early period had been about the real Scotland, the later period saw the artists with families to feed and bills to pay.  They catered more to the growing middle classes in Helensburgh, Cathcart and Paisley (honestly, that’s what it said on the wa’!)  Sir William Burrell, the art impressario of the time, even funded Henry and Hornel’s trips to the far east to capture the market in ‘the exotic’.

Horizons and perspective were out.  Claustrophic subjects from literature, folklore, Japan and Spain were in.

Stuart Park's Roses

Sunshine, picnics, boating, tennis, cycling, Stirling railway station, pastels, the Pascha, Japanese ladies and landscapes with a slash of exotic red, the Middle East, blottesque and the birth of those quaint, chintzy rabbits, donkeys, pigeons, aviaries and roses you can see all over John Lewis and other department stores of that ilk.

At the end of their careers, some of the boys became part of the establishment, some worked in foreign fields, many influenced the Scottish artists of the future, but as Rob MaCauley Stevenson said:

“At heart, we were just the boys.”

George Henry's Japanese Lady with a Fan

Prices are £5 and £3 concessions and it should take about 3 hours to go round the 140 paintings lovingly displayed at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

Although at a canter, it can be done in one.

© Fin Wycherley

Agree?  Disagree?  Let me know.

Related Articles

  • The Scotsman review
  • Times Educational Supplement review
  • The Herald review
  • The Glasgow Boys Beat Van Gogh for Visitors at Kelvingrove, The Herald, Sun 19th Sept 2010

Phelo, Loyiso & Zwai Bala

What do you get when you cross Opera with South African township, jazz, R&B & Afrikaaner hymns?

Why, none other than the fabulous Bala Brothers.  Three tenors who’ve got their groove on.  Comprising three black South African brothers – Zwai, Loyiso and Phelo – with charm and talent in uber abundance.

I first met Zwai when he was 19 on a scholarship to the Royal Academy for Musica and Drama studying classical music in Glasgow.  My boyfriend of only 10 weeks had been at school with Zwai in South Africa and desperately needed his best friend’s seal of approval.

Young Zwai

My boyfriend and I sat in the upstairs cafe at St James Centre in Edinburgh and I nervously prepared to impress Zwai with my knowledge of classical music, South Africa and charming banter.

Uncomfortably late, a young, light-skinned black guy appeared at the top of the escalator looking no older than 14. Small, skinny and a little bit twitchy, Zwai was not an impressive looking type of guy.

But then he started to speak.

For 3 hours, I cried my heart out with belly-rocking laughter.  Never in my life have I laughed as much, then or now.  This guy had the gift of telling stories that could last 25 minutes, filling in all the important details with colour and style, while leisurely teasing his doubled-up audience towards the conclusion.

Zwai Bala

Zwai, a bit older

Zwai told scary, hysterical stories about his recent circumcision in the South Africa bush with tribal elders; regaled us with his dismal failures at attracting girls and the priceless high-jinks both he and my boyfriend got up to as scholarship black boys in the all-white boarding school under apartheid.

That was my first experience of the picturesque oratory and humour of South Africans.  And when I think about it, that conversation on a sunny winter’s day in March 1995 made me fall in love with my future husband even more.

I had already fallen head over heels for the man, but now I was irrevocably smitten by his culture.

TKZee

I didn’t see Zwai again for 8 years during which time he had carved out a meteoric career back in South Africa.  He started as a gospel singer, then with 2 other school friends, founded a group called TKZee to develop a new hip-hop, township sound called Kwaito.

By 1998, TKZee had become the fastest and biggest selling recording artists in South African history.  They quickly became household names not just in South Africa but across the continent.

At South Africa’s Opening Ceremony for the Fifa World Cup 2010, TKZee shared the stage with Hugh Masekela, R. Kelly and Shakira for the first global showcase of kwaito music.

Loyiso

Zwai’s vast repertoire of voice, piano, production and arrangement has made him one of the top producers and artists in South Africa’s music industry today.  He was recently a celebrity contestant on the first season of Strictly Come Dancing and when leaving Edinburgh, was jetting back to be a judge on ‘Popstars‘ – South Africa’s hit TV show equivalent of Pop Idol.

On hearing his wee brother Phelo at 15, sing Nessun Dorma, Zwai was inspired to develop a fresh sound for a new generation.  Persuading his middle brother, Loyiso, himself a Drackensberg graduate, to take time away from his high-profile R&B career, was a struggle.

But once the brothers had locked themselves into the recording studio for a few weeks, Loyiso realised there was something magical about the sounds they made.

Phelo, age 19

The Bala Brothers go back to their musical roots of passionate opera, swinging South African township, sonorous Afrikaans hymns and rocking out jazz.

During the show in Edinburgh, Zwai also went back to his story telling roots and wove the Bala Brothers’ personal journey through the troubled history of South Africa in his inimical fashion.

He drew the audience closer and more intensely to the beating heart of South Africa’s magical landscape, stories and sounds with his wicked wit and charm.

Bala Brothers

Zwai does not have any problems with attracting girls any more.  Quite the contrary.  Now that he’s married to one of South Africa’s most beautiful TV and radio stars, Melanie Bala, he has to beat them off with a stick.

Zwai Bala is a man of great courage, humour, heart and vision.  But most of all, Uncle Zwai is responsible for planting the joyful spirit and passionate soul of South Africa deep in my heart … and with the help of my husband, producing 5 beautiful children.

Ngiyabonga, baba.

The Bala Brothers performed to standing ovations and a packed house at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Princes Street Gardens on 9th and 16th August 2010.  And as special guests with the Soweto Gospel Choir for the first two weeks of the festival.  They also sang two acapela songs in the Leith FM studio that I’ll post up in a bit.

Watch them on YouTube:

TKZee singing Dlala Mapantsula (click straight through)

Loyiso singing Dali Wami

Bala Brothers singing Khumbula

Bala Brothers singing Strome Van Seen

©finwycherley