Janice Galloway on Muriel Spark

Photo: Muriel Spark, writer. 1918 – 2006.

At the Edinburgh International Book Festival 11th August 2018. There are many other events in the Muriel Spark theme at the Book Festival this year. Here is the link.

Muriel Spark is one of the Book Festival’s 2018 themes. This most entertaining event is chaired by Jenny Niven, Head of Literature at Creative Scotland, and it is Janice Galloway who gives forth on the author of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. A tour de force, Galloway is a consummate performer, delighting us with cockney accents, flamboyant quotes and well-timed biographical info. ‘You made the right choice!’ Niven tells us in her introduction. Galloway’s first novel The Trick is to Keep Breathing, was published in 1989 and followed by more stories, libretti, non-fiction, poetry – you name it.

Not just amusing, but also a veritable wealth of knowledge on the subject, Galloway arrives with a great grin and only a little nervous knee wobbling. This is the centenary year of Mrs Spark, as Ms Galloway refers to her, and it has ignited divers projects around the world notably here in Spark’s home city. Galloway is lecturing, workshopping and producing her own work in response: “delving deep” as Niven put it.

Looking into the audience with penetrating gaze, Galloway elucidated Spark’s life: born in 1918, she only started writing when 40, after a lively time as wife to Syney Oswald Spark (“the only thing she liked about him was his name”). In ‘Rhodesia’ he threatened to shoot her (many of her short stories are about such goings on amongst the ex-pat community) and she hid herself and her son for 4 years before she could return to “old blighty” in 1944. This prompted her to develop an ‘it was for the best’ attitude, stressed Galloway, in her fast but exceptionally clear delivery.

Janice Galloway


Spark, she continues, changed what was expected from women’s writing, coming at it from a female point of view, in a common sense “no horsing about” kind of a way and signalling that, contrary to the fiction which previously had been published, women could write about anything.

Galloway’s gift is a reading from The Ballad of Peckham Rye bringing the characters to life with slow circular sweeps of her arm and perfect London accents. “The guests in the pews rustled as if they were all women”, she reads. It is an absolutely beautiful rendering.

She discusses Jean Brodie of course, gives advice on writing, and more. With a single finger held up to emphasise her words, she tells us that there was “no bigwiggery” about Muriel Spark.

book festival

Warmed Air – site-specific performance

Warmed Air 10 Aug 3pm Anatomical Museum, Teviot Place

Warmed Air is a site-specific combination of dance and the arts which takes place in the Anatomical Museum in Edinburgh. The title refers to exhaled breath, warmer after the exchange of gases inside the lungs. It is an original idea and realised collaboratively and inclusively: Ruth Pollitt, who “likes old things” is the museum’s curator and plays the shawm (a sort of medieval oboe) in the show. Simon Anderson initiated the project with his interest in Antonin Artaud, somatic movement and psychophysical performance.

We are led into the Lecture Theatre where the sound of deep breathing fills the space as we sit up high looking down onto the podium. Here a specialist delivers a lecture about Indian sun gods, Maes Howe , e=mc2 and the science of the fixed firmament which unfortunately we cannot hear in its entirety. The dancers, dressed in yellow and red, pose arabesques, crawl and scramble over seats, dangerously perch, and pivot, cranium on wood.

The second section involves a tour into the museum itself, briefly hovering in front of Paul Michael Henry, situated between dinosaur skeletons, a living specimen behind a sheet of glass. This performer has a mannered intensity.

anatomical musem 3

Thirdly, we move to a room full of display cases: bones, skulls (including a cast of Rabbie Burns exhumed for burial by his wife), and a body preserved in 1788 with flesh and sex organs. Here the four dancers alternate in presenting their solos, presumably their own personal responses to the general themes: writer and artist Laura Gonzalez with her neat feet – I liked her phrase ‘your soft architecture’); part-time lecturer at the Royal Conservatoire, Laura Bradshaw’s bone movement, sensual hand wringing and found words); and a misguided rewrite of The Cruel Mother.

There is so much material here, fascinating ideas seeking connections between disciplines. Like some conceptual art, it is intriguing on the page, but so far the ideas are more interesting than the exposition; the physical and verbal improvisation is too ambitious for the performers’ skills. There is great possibility however it is in need of tight direction, an outside eye which can contain the myriad influences and focus it. On a basic level someone is needed to stand in the audience and see if they can hear or see; on an artistic level to draw the strands together, eliminating the personal favourites if they don’t work for the good of the piece, thereby creating a coherent whole.

Overall this show uses a very wide range of fascinating ideas and seeks connections between disciplines, painting and dance for example. There is great possibility here but it is in need of tight direction, an outside eye which can contain the myriad influences and focus it. On a basic level someone is needed to stand in the audience and see if they can hear or see; on an artistic level to draw the strands together, eliminating the personal favourites if they don’t work for the good of the piece thereby creating a coherent whole.




Heads Up showcase, Dance Base

Aiming to give us a ‘heads up’ regarding new and upcoming young dance talent, “high quality dance diversions….fresh ideas…new and exciting”, this showcase offers five pieces of work that all need development before they move into the professional arena. If it was a programme of self-promoted choreographers, it would fit well into the Fringe programme, however, this was curated and the artists were invited, so the bar has been set higher.

Though two wobble or preen, the dancers are obviously well trained and perform with focus. Emma Snellgrove and Stefania Catarinella in particular move smoothly, with ease and proficiency. Overall, the production and some of the costumes are simple but effective, especially the spotlight in Cabbages and Queens by Jay Yule, one of the more noteworthy.

There are attractive aspects to each piece: In Dis-Connected the costume and initial pose are eye catching and poised; Claricia Parinussa in Untitled (Labyrinth) has a confident stage presence looking for a new language merging body popping and contemporary; Snellgrove and Catarinella duet with a lithe grace, and the spoken word delivery is bold; and if you know your Lewis Carroll, you will recognise all sort of references in Cabbages and these jumping off points are the most integrated and interesting.

Claricia heads up
Claricia Parinussa

The choreography consists, in the main, of steps learned from teachers in class. To find originality, these budding dance makers must start with their own instinctual, honest reactions to music / text / feelings, and find the new ideas from there. The danger of reproducing others’ styles, though ideal to learn this way in college, is that the movements do not connect to the themes expressed in the programme, they do not emanate from a true inner place. There was no evidence that an individual relationship was made with, for example, the poem used in When Time Stood Still or the dramaturgy in Go / Labyrinth (Untitled).

Most emerging companies / soloists cannot afford a director, but it is hoped that mentoring, if on offer from Dance Base, would inspire these talented dancers to immerse themselves in their source material and discover choreography which is identifiable as their own, after all they have now graduated and are working professionally.

11 Aug 12.45 Second Showcase with different contributors.

L-E-V Dance Company- Love Cycle

L-E-V Dance Company, Love Cycle: OCD Love and Love Chapter 2. 9-11 Aug 2018 20.00 hrs.

These two 55-minute shows performed on consecutive nights by the Israeli L-E-V Dance Company are pure contemporary dance, as pure as it gets: five dancers, minimal lighting, an almost constantly berating soundtrack from the tick – tick of the opening to the relentless techno rhythms of the rest; and bare movement. In OCD, the performers enter one by one unobtrusively from corners or between curtains, limbs picked out of the shadows by dull light, and begin their desperate, compulsive movements. In Chapter 2, all five are onstage continuously and the dance language is almost identical with the score and repetition building to an infernal pace with no end in sight.

OCD Love is more OCD than love and you won’t necessarily get either unless you read about it first. Once you do know, it definitely is obsessive. Sharon Eyal’s choreography is highly original. Her deeply personal identification with Neil Hilborn’s poem, OCD, has resulted in an intense, strung-out and internal set of motifs which are, of course, repeated. In the same way that this ultimately destructive behaviour is an external sign of something desperate happening inside, so it is well nigh impossible to empathise. One watches with a sort of horror, but does not kinaesthetically participate in it. The audience’s initial confusion and lack of understanding may well be a reflection of the sufferers themselves being unconsciously controlled and driven.


The choreographic impetus for both pieces is at the centre (as you would expect from Eyal’s formative association with Martha Graham) and the torso is racked with convulsions, shudders and twitches. The endless arms and legs octopus-wave sequentially from there, then nudge with jagged elbows, sink deep with knees angular, or keep the impossibly persistent beat of soft steps. Each body is taut with tension, especially the shoulders, and the backbends are excruciating, with hands that reach so far behind, you wonder that they belong at all.

Fingers grasp and pull back the head of another, mimetic palms claw own breast and abdomen, hips jut suggestively in frequently bird-like trajectories around the stage. Very occasionally there is a breathless hiaitus, and once there is a terrible crash on drums and with fist and the audience shocks. Perhaps there is a slight tenderness between two, more likely there are empty arms where a partner should be – these beings are locked into themselves.

The performances are 100% solid, impossible to fault, which is almost unheard of. Without doubt they are drilled and dedicated. The long-standing collaboration between Eyal and composer Ori Lichtik’s grand score is perfect, and the watchers’ final cheers were surely a response to the sheer quality of the work.

We Are – African music and dance

Adaawe – We Are Festival at St John’s Church, Edinburgh. Aug 10-11, 13-14, 17-18, 20-21, 24-25 at 21.00 hrs.

Dance and music inspired by African culture is almost always joyous, and We Are is no exception. Part of the Just Festival at St John’s, the show was devised and performed by Adaawe with Anindo Marshall (co-founder) on vocals and percussion, Dez “the Pharoah” Glover using drum kit and vocals, and Chiyumba Ossone, also on percussion and vocals – all from Los Angeles. They are backed up by Karel Kalef (bass guitar), Neil Martin (guitar) and Suzy Cargill (percussion), all from Edinburgh. They are on stage with Ula Enaholo (vocals), a talented teenager from our local Royal Lyceum Youth Theatre, and a host of enthusiastic and committed children from the Marion Sweeney School of Dance in Linlithgow, just outside the city. Dedicated to and inspired by the women of Ghana, West Africa, they bounce off their own ethnic roots from Africa to the Middle East, Morocco and Panama, as well as the US.


The show consists of a series of acts, opening and closing with rousing vocals and gentle dance numbers from the whole cast. The children, despite only rehearsing on skype until this weekend and then having two practices once the key women had arrived on Scottish turf, are fantastic; ebullient and really skilful considering their age. Moving the upper torso in the traditional African way is contrary to all Western styles of dance training and yet they do it admirably.

The key theme is that of the strong matriachs who inspired the central cast, amongst them Rosa Parks  (who in 1955 stood up against the dominant white folk by remaining in her seat on the bus); and Malala (who was shot on a bus in 2012 for standing up for education for girls). Using projections on a banner at the back, white face masks, moving lyrics, dramatic poems, live recordings and simple but effective movement, the show teaches us about these powerful women and invites us to sing along in celebration.

This first night was not without its (temporary) technical difficulties but the cast were dedicated and wholly present. This is something rare: a work which is both entertaining and educational – absolutely ideal for teenagers to instil strength and determination by learning from their forebears.

Stiffs – theatre review

Stiffs are at The Space , North Bridge. (Hilton Hotel) Aug 6-11 21.05

Two stiffs wake up in a morgue with no idea where they are and no memory of what went before. In a laddish sort of a way, the two guys then slowly figure out what might have happened to bring them here and there’s a good deal of banter and argy-bargy along the way.

The company was set up in 2017 by students from Barnsley, Mark Olzsewski and William Batty. Billed as ‘absurdist comedy’,  Stiffs by Marcus and Wilhelm is part of the Death on the Fringe and it does not have a complicated plot, nothing much to get your head around, rather this is simple, fun Fringe theatre played for laughs.

Or is it? The ‘absurd’ part is a nod towards theatre which enquires into the meaning of human existence, and comes to the conclusion that it really has no purpose, with the result that communication breaks down. Here, on the surface of it, the writers seek for the silly, but because their protagonists have no way of actually discovering their true backstories, what was initially a slow unfolding of the truth, turns out to be a play of only one possibility. The final scene, though simplistic, hints at the endless repetition of options, with no guarantee of any final or ‘true’ understanding of why we are all here on this earth doing this stuff and going to shows in Edinburgh in the first place. But you’ve got to laugh!

Set in one of Edinburgh’s temporary but well-run theatres with audience on three sides, the performers do very well in opening up so everyone can see. In fact, overall, this new company have a very open style of performing – confident, bright and pretty slick.

tiffs 2

Sandra from the service station, is an amusing excerpt with apt gestures, expression and nuance but
the script is patchy, giving the characters, especially the one we mostly know as Vince, variable personalities ranging in his case from the erudite, using terms like “logistically speaking” and “recoup myself”, to the banal “I aint done nuffin never”. This isn’t absurd, it’s inconsistent writing.

The accents are bizarre: Vince speaks in a cockney cum posh English cum Liverpool one. Does it matter? This is a goofy, farcical, two-hander which mainly aims to entertain, but yes it does matter if they want to further develop from a company touring the student circuit into one which people take seriously.

WRoNGHEADED – contemporary dance review

Contemporary Dance Show Review: WRoNGHEADED by Liz Roche Company.

Aug 5, 7-12, 14-19 Dance Base, Edinburgh Fringe 2018.

WRoNGHEADED opens with beautiful images: Mary Wycherley’s film of natural landscape – iceberg, water – glides into our vision before we see any dancers (it has featured in dance film festivals around the world and won an award in Kerry in 2017). Set to Elaine Feeney’s fierce poetry, the environment is swirly and sleepy in atmosphere. An elegiac lace-clad wood nymph drifts, contrasting with the glistening, jaggedy rockface; it’s a near-monochrome palette.

A single dancer slides on from a downstage corner, back arching, arm curving over, quiet as if on snow, not disturbing, not attracting attention. Electronic music now. We recognise the woman from the film become concrete, in the breath and shadow. There is an air of seriousness.

Liz Roche Company are currently in residence at the Dublin Festival and Roche herself is an experienced choreographer. Created in 2016, it sought to “highlight the frustration that many women feel in relation to the choices that have been available to them around their bodies in Ireland”, so it is indeed serious. Happily, some monumental changes have taken place since then, but there is still a way to go obviously.

For a time, the two women share the space but do not touch. With shoulders hunched, they slip and slide in slow motion, they roll, explore, suspend. One reaches with her chest. A breast is almost touched. Later hands are thrust between thighs; fingers are splayed; sudden sinewy ripples rack the torso and there’s an abrupt change of direction. Then it starts to change: angled arms, a knee crossed over a taut leg and they join. In a Contact Improvisation-based duet, any spaces between the dancers is highly charged. They react off each other, brush against, spring away from, only to return to the crook of a knee or armpit. After a struggle one lands on top of the other, a dead weight, and it takes some wriggling for the other to extricate herself.

The poem is complex, and only snippets come through when the focus is on the action: “Sorry, sorry”, “I’m in debt to you for giving me air to live”, “Nonononono”. Attention is necessarily split between the movement language and the words. The choreographer has mined the poem for ideas, so is it necessary to use it in its entirety? Its quality and that of the steps are imbalanced: one thought provoking and direct; the other sensual and atmospheric, dreamlike. Ultimately this is the type of contemporary dance which is dense and speaks to the initiated. It is not easily accessible, but aficionados will be impressed.