“Mother Goose” by Kirky Players—A Review

“It’s more intimate” said the oldest member of the Kirkintilloch Players, sitting with her grandkids beside me and my elderly Mum—who smiled and laughed all the way through their production of Mother Goose. The wee 60-seater Turret Theatre, bought by the company, a cosy venue for this first relaxed performance, catering especially for any, young or old, who might be made anxious by the usual bangs and crashes onstage.

The cast were onstage as we entered slowly through the side door, the very gentle slope easier than a step for Mum, and the kids especially, as they came in with their mums and dads, clearly loved seeing them up close, reassuringly approachable even in the costumes. Good natured banter and cheery hellos were followed by words welcome to any parent or carer: there was no problem if kids couldn’t sit still or if anyone needed the loo.

Then the lights went down (which they did only momentarily throughout the show) and we were treated to the fairy magic of Jennifer Lochhead and Anne-Marie Connor, who as well as being a fun double act also have lovely singing voices. The dashing demon Ross Harrison was suitably booed—one wee boy sticking up for him but the rest of us very happily opposed to the Baddie.

Lynn McDonough and Julie Cassells as Mother Hubbard and Miss Muffet had all our sympathy with the plight of the wee dug Nancy (her cupboard being bare) and the Unfortunate Incident (with her tuffet) and played the part of the good Scotch chorus, gossips and guardians of village morals, hilariously.

Christopher Connon’s good looks made his sneaky plans as Squire Spurtle even more scurrilous and his sidekicks Hackit and Maukit, Chloe Rooney and Isla McFadden, dafter than daft, had us in stitches. Of course we booed them too!

Claire Connor and Emma Wilson, another great double act with lovely voices, were entertaining as Jack Goose and Jill Spurtle, with a Romeo and Juliet element to their romance, but the accolade for the adults—with special mentions of Michelle Lawson, for multiple quick costume changes as the amiable but confused player out of place and the forgetful Judge, and of Natalie Manly for such an eloquent mute performance as Priscilla the Goose—must go to Adam Cooper as Silly Billy Goose and to Hilary Linas, fantabulous in double drag as Mother Goose, whose antics and patter had us roaring with laughter.

The eleven-strong youth chorus were simply a joy. Congrats to the Choreographer and Youth Supervisor. It’s wonderful over the years to see kids grow in stage skills and confidence, and as I watched the show today—alternately laughing, applauding, booing, and just feeling so moved by the evident energy of everyone onstage, knowing how this kind of success depends on all the hard work backstage—I thought “we’re back!”

After the drab and Draconian regime of the past few years, the extent of which people seem to be increasingly waking up to, I was thrilled to see this community drama club bounce back. At the finale the entire cast sang: “Oh you can colour my world with happiness all the way!”

And in this well-directed, hilariously costumed, skilfully stage managed joyous and most hospitable production I think they did just that.

All productions of Mother Goose are sold out but you can keep up to date with future initiatives of this thriving club on the website: https://www.kirkintillochplayers.co.uk/

Thanks to Karen Arnold for releasing her image Red Theatre Curtains into the Public Domain.


A Season in Hell

I don’t blame you for booing and applauding the various actors in the Parliamentary panto currently being staged in the UK. I’ve blogged about the deadly consequences of distraction and missing the point already, and the leader of the Freedom Alliance party has reiterated that point: which particular World Economic Forum puppet is in power doesn’t matter—it’s the same hands pulling the strings.

In that Freedom Alliance video, Jonathan Tilt speaks out against the criminal WEF agenda of digital slavery and for the FA manifesto of peace, freedom and the rule of law. The vision he shares is one of small, decentralised, government with minimal interference in the lives of individuals and the democratic decisions of local communities. He also strongly upholds equality and inclusion—well aware that these buzzwords have been misused.

Pantomimes follow a script and, although some ad-libs are expected, they’re very formulaic. There’s the man playing the Dame, the couple of clowns playing the Dafties, the young woman playing the Principle Boy singing duets with the young woman playing the Principle Girl, the older man as the Villain, and of course there’s everybody else playing the Villagers.

The scenes are also generic. Most pantos include some version of the following: Happy Village Life; Mysterious Stranger with an Offer; Kidnapped; Finding Courage; Journey to the Villain’s Lair; Slapstick…and right before the Finale there’s Community Singing.

This scene is usually performed in front of the closed curtains to give the stage crew time to set the stage for the Finale and for some principles to change costume. It involves the actors splitting themselves and the audience into two factions for a sing-off. In any good panto, the actors will start singing merrily, then halt, then complain to the audience that they’re not joining in. This unfair complaint will hopefully prompt some child to shout back that they don’t know the words. (If this doesn’t happen the adults, in the know after years of panto-going, will do this and if the audience is too posh to shout things out then the Prompt will.) At this point, the actors will stand amazed at this lack of provision by the theatre company (that they’re part of) and start to stir up the audience by getting them to repeatedly shout BRING OUT THE WORDS!!!

To the children in the audience, this seems like the pantomime characters solving a problem—especially as the words are then trundled out or lowered onstage. However all this is part of the cheerful fakery of the performance. In pantomime that’s fine. It’s all good fun and nobody gets hurt. If you know what’s going on, you pretend you don’t. The kids love it, and so do the adults. I go every year, whether I’m onstage or not.

Political pantomime has all of these characteristics: it’s distracting, it’s entertaining and it’s fake. However it’s not played out in a theatre. When it’s performed in Parliament or on TV it’s bad enough but the real danger is when it takes the form of promenade theatre—in other words it hits the streets. With massive audience participation.

Stop and think: did the doors open political pantomime of the invasion of the Capitol building in Washington DC on 6th January last year further in any way the aims of the protestors? The media may have focussed on the magnificent manly torso and horned helmet of one of the participants but people died in that incident and the outcome was to discredit the protest—despite the clear evidence that it was a set up.

Now in the UK, a Twitter account only set up in January 2022 named @PoIitics4You is demanding a mass protest in front of Parliament on 5th November:

Poster: Remember the 5th of November. Demand a General Election Now, etc.

At the bottom of the poster are these words:

Vote and be heard – MET Police are notified

So an anonymous citizen sets up an account in January of this year, and waits till July to start expressing opinions (before that it’s only public information and retweets of news stories) which are pro-Covid narrative, anti-Brexit, anti-Tory, pro-Monarchy and, from September, calling for a General Election. In October the account starts tagging the Met Police. At the moment the account has 5K followers.

Here’s my question: why does an account apparently set up by a rather obsessive and opinionated individual wait 6 months before expressing those opinions then, having claimed a vaguely crowd-pleasing identity, wait a further 3 months to call for a mass protest—encouraging others to keep notifying the police?

The 6th January protest at the US Capitol was clearly staged and was subsequently used to justify repression of anti-lockdown protest and social media dissent. This proposed protest is attempting to exploit the sympathy in the freedom movement for the repressed citizens portrayed in the film V for Vendetta yet the organiser is unknown, the pattern of posting odd and the immediate involvement of the police suspect.

For all the reasons that Jonathan Tilt has explained, in consideration of the repression after the protest at the Capitol and of the general Problem-Reaction-Solution dynamic that Spiro Skouras often warns us of, I advise anyone truly committed to freedom to stay indoors on Guy Fawkes’ Night and soothe their pets—there are already too many firecrackers going off on the 5th November—otherwise this political theatre vendetta will only result in a season in Hell.

“V for Vendetta” Guy Fawkes mask in monochrome on black background

Thanks to Piotr Siedlecki for releasing his image Guy Fawkes mask into the Public Domain.

Blue Murder

There’s a word used in Brazil to describe the convenient chaos that thieves and muggers create to distract their victims: confusão. Right now in the UK—distracted by the scuffles, reshuffles and broadcast outrage emanating from the ‘mother of Parliaments’ (a phrase only lacking in colonial hubris in the American street sense)—who is paying attention to the blue NHS envelopes sliding through letterboxes in households where every adult is glued to their phone, computer or TV?

Are you?

Inside, the anonymous and impersonal sender invites the unsuspecting citizen to receive “a winter flu and Covid vaccination”—in full knowledge that Pfizer have recently (at last) acknowledged that there is no evidence supporting the claim that their particular pharmaceutical venom reduces transmission.

Readers of this blog may know that I started questioning the official Covid narrative back in March 2020, based on the investigations of the late and dearly missed David Crowe. Since then, we’ve had all the evils of disaster capitalism: the crony contracts, the suppression of civil liberties, the sabotage of small and medium businesses, the planned demolition of the economy. And we’ve had the deaths.

I won’t keep you long from the updates. Everyone wants to know which new World Economic Forum agent will be in 10 Downing Street next week. Even though it will make no difference.

Meanwhile, if you are able, gently but firmly share your knowledge of the widespread harms occasioned by those foolish enough to trust in the professional responsibility of an industry dedicated only to profit, not people.

I won’t tell you to stop watching the Parliamentary pantomime. I will ask you to stop the blue murder.

Blue NHS envelope

The Spy Who Doxxed Me

Crack open a beer and start popping the corn. This is a saga.

In December 2019, I sent an email to a woman I shall call M who in the tedious and inexact language of modern bureaucracy (language from the factory floor inapplicable to education) is the line manager of my line managers. It contained four bullet points:

Following the lack of success in gaining an interview (for the position of Lecturer in […]) I’m concerned about the possibility of bias in HR recruitment for the following reasons:

  • I fulfil all essential and desirable criteria and exceed some (e.g. a doctorate is not essential)
  • I am disabled which, given the above, should grant me an interview
  • Gender equity can be a factor as that would work in my favour not against me—as I am a man and about 70/115 of School of […] Research & Teaching staff are women
  • On my Twitter account (personal but my posts are public and I use my full name) I am vocal about the legal rights of free association, freedom of expression and the need for EIAs. In universities across the UK those rights have been challenged and staff being sacked for proclaiming them

In this instance, I would be glad to know that there are simply a large number of highly qualified and experienced candidates and that I just didn’t make the shortlist. What concerns me is that HR staff may be filtering candidates in regard to an ideology (which we have discussed) which has not been officially adopted by the University executive or academic community.

([…] ellipsis mine)

Of course I was reassured that it was nothing of the sort. Nothing else happened in connection with this, till the next year. But that year was 2020. When the world went mad. In September 2020, I had occasion to complain to 3 sectors of the University where I worked that their recently-published disabled access policy was incompatible with that in the HR modules which all staff had to do every year or so (based on the Equality Act 2010 and Data Protection Act 2018). Their policy was also incompatible with the Coronavirus Act 2020. I’ve explained why this is so in a previous post about shopping in Scotland but it’s applicable to disabled access across the whole of the UK.

I won’t quote all the email ping-pong but 2 of the 3 sectors accepted what I said, changed their policy, thanked me—and one apologised and reassured me explicitly that anyone who entered campus without a mask would be assumed to be exempt and would not be interrogated but allowed to access the goods and services of the University without let or hindrance. (I paraphrase.)

The exception was M. Her reaction contained none of the above and instead berated me for causing distress to colleagues and attempted to carpet me. I resisted and persisted. Thus began a campaign of victimisation that has lasted over two years. Note that by this protected disclosure (unrecognised as such by HR) I was not only acting in the public interest, which is the definition of whistleblowing, but I was also warning my colleagues of their possible liability for legal action should they do any of the things recommended by senior management which included emotional blackmail of unmasked students, including many young international students; coercion of students to do the job of cleaners, unpaid and uninsured; and reporting anyone who complained to an anti-terrorist organisation. (I’m not making this up, you know.)

But that’s not the story. That’s just 2020. You know. You remember.

In April of that year, I had emailed M again and my two doctoral supervisors, both professors of the University. At this point I still had confidence in M. I certainly had confidence in them and I still do, they were quite simply a delight to work with—a combination of erudition, charm and the very rare ability to ask the right questions. That email was simply giving them a friendly heads up because I had responded to a university consultation on the pandemic response. Unsurprisingly, my questions were never put to the panel. But I was contacting them in case they were, and someone contacted them, asking about me. I explained that I’d been writing about the incoherence of the pandemic narrative and give them the link to my blog.

That’s not the story either.

In August of 2021, a tedious correspondence started after I was invited to speak that June at the Holyrood Faith Debates as part of a panel of RE teachers discussing LGBT issues – during which I mentioned the Maya Forstater judgment. Apparently I wasn’t PC enough for one of the participants because they tried to doxx me. The colleague who emailed me about this, whom I’ve known for decades, was wise enough to desist when I pointed out that intrusive surveillance of my social media posts by my employer was not provided for in law.

There followed more tedious correspondence about the honorarium (which I still don’t know if they’ve paid me) which M inserted herself into, in order to accuse me of bullying the person holding the purse strings (PS?) because I’d advised her not to write emails as if from the DVLA (underlined and bold) and not to violate the provisions of GDPR by attempting to coerce staff into providing necessary personal information. She (PS) apologised and I thanked her and explained that I was under great stress. Admittedly I didn’t apologise to her for pointing out robustly that she (PS) was not doing her job and breaking the law – a fact that M gleefully seized on months afterwards. To establish ‘a pattern of hostile and aggressive communication’. Like ‘obey the law’ and ‘leave me alone!’

There followed a pile-on from HR and senior staff. I have RSI in my hands and wrists. It’s a condition I manage and every University email has that information as part of my signature. So it was literally torture for me to have to answer this relentless flood of emails, especially as I no-longer had access to the voice recognition software I’d used for over a decade so all that human-machine mutual learning had gone and I was trying (and failing) to use a crappy Microsoft version that was clearly not designed for anyone with a manual disability—and shoved in punctuation and all caps according to the stress patterns in my voice.

Here’s the story:

On Saturday 26th March 2022, [let’s call her PG] (a middle-aged lecturer from Crewe and former BBC journo) was quoted in The Times newspaper. That article is behind a paywall but The Scottish Sun (26th March 2022, updated 28th March 2022) reported her libellous words as follows:

Dr McManus, an associate tutor in the School of […], is reportedly under investigation by the uni for spreading conspiracy theories about coronavirus and Ukraine, according to The Times.
[PG], a political communication lecturer, has called for McManus to be sacked.
She told The Times she believes the university should “no longer employ” him.
[PG, spelled wrongly] told the paper she would “would personally be quite concerned about someone who expresses those kind of views, conspiracy theories, and apparent indifference to the suffering of Ukrainians, holding a teaching role”.
The lecturer went on to say she feels McManus’ views do not reflect the values of [the University].

Please note “apparent indifference”. Mind-reading. Note also that there is no mention that the source of this misreading is from an article published on 14th March 2022 in The Ferret (an online Scottish magazine) by one Jasmine Andersson, a young woman from Hull, based in London, who usually writes for Vice, described on trendhunter.com in these terms:

VICE Magazine has developed an impressive penchant for its following of censored subject matter. Transsexual lifestyle, drug-abusing models, and just about anything sexually suggestive has been favored by the VICE team. What’s more is that the media conglomerate does not attempt to sugar coat their controversial slant. The images selected for the spreads are straight forward (sic.), and are often the only references needed to comprehend the message of the editorials.

My point is that a middle-aged native speaker of English and former BBC journalist now a lecturer in Political Communication should know better. If she wanted to know my thoughts on the suffering of Ukrainians (or of the forgotten Yemeni or the kids mining for mobile phone conflict minerals in the DRC) she doesn’t have to presume, she could be polite and professional enough to ask me. She knows my name, she can easily find my email address and the articles she is quoted in (with her permission) give my social media handle.

In all there were 8 smear articles, the source of each is in brackets: Ferret (Vice), Ferret (Vice), Times (Ferret), Times (Times), National (Ferret), National (National), Scottish Sun (whatever x2). The one I quoted goes on:

A University of […] spokesperson said: “The matter is now under investigation by the University. We can’t comment further at this time.”

The source of that last quote is from an unknown member of staff tweeting as @Uof[…]. I have several times asked the identity of that person and I have been stonewalled. The tweet, which breaks GDPR and is libellous (therefore not only against University policy but actionable) has since been deleted, as has a tweet from @[P_G] where she states that, as I am an Associate Tutor, I will have a rolling contract so that should simply not be renewed (I paraphrase from memory).

At the time that [PG] directed hate towards me, I was a standing candidate in a Scottish election. The period known as Purdah starts from the date of publication of notice of the election (14th March 2022) and runs till the day of election (5th May 2022). Harassing candidates at this time is a police matter. This is because the murder of Jo Cox (RIP) highlighted how few women were standing, out of fear. It does not matter that I am male. All candidates should be safe, by law. This applies especially to anyone from a Public Body. All these articles quoting her referenced her academic position and institution, as did her twitter account at that time (my social media accounts do not, as I write as a private citizen). The University of […] is considered a Public Body as it is “a formally established organisation that is, at least in part, publicly funded to deliver a public or government service, though not as a ministerial department.” (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/public-bodies-reform, accessed 15/09/22)

Therefore [PG] violated Purdah, endangered my reputation, my employment, my person and also the mental and physical health of my elderly mother—as I am her chief carer after her cancer operation and I was forced to publish my address as I acted as my own agent. This reckless endangerment, which could have easily resulted in some flag-wearing crazy throwing a brick through my window and causing my mother to have heart failure, based on the spicy speculation of gutter-press journalism, has led to almost 6 months of inquisitorial investigation by senior staff of the University of […]. I cannot believe that a person of her experience would not have foreseen this and I find this public abuse of a colleague (apparently for self-promotion aided by her media savvy) not only distasteful but contrary to the core values of the University and of the kind of democracy for which we pride ourselves in Scotland. It is also contrary to my inalienable rights, recognised in the ECHR and by both the UK and the Scottish Parliament: Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Religion and Belief.

I could forgive such behaviour from an inexperienced young student, but this mature professional woman obviously knows full well what that libel would do. Indeed not only did these articles lose my campaign support (former supporters told me this) but her actual words regarding my precarious employment have been repeated by a senior member of staff in an ongoing abusive HR process started by further malicious accusations—which (at one point) also included those of this self-promoting lecturer.

Democracy must be protected and Purdah is in place to do just that and it is a legal wrongdoing to break it. The University of […] should not be sheltering someone guilty of such an affront to Scottish democracy. This libellous lecturer is not fit for post.

  • The University has refused to reveal the identity of the staff member who tweeted about me as @Uof[…], revealing personal information and bringing the University into disrepute.
  • Neither the University nor [PG] have publicly, or even privately, apologised to me using the same media by which I was slandered by the University—which is vicariously liable.
  • I have demanded that [PG] (who is teaching Political Communication to students) be sacked. Given the effect on my campaign, my mental health, and the potential life-threatening risk to my extremely vulnerable mother, I think it fitting that both I and my party receive a public apology from both members of staff and the University and that we are recompensed for their complicity (and vicariously that of the University of […]) with slander and reckless endangerment.

PG, ‘an old Antonian’, who was in her youth quite pretty, has odd gaps in her online CV and ever since she graduated with a First in Modern Languages has been the recipient of various grants and fellowships. I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation of the location of her first job—2004 to 2011 on the CV—(Senior Monitoring Journalist, BBC) as: “Moscow (Russia) / Caversham (UK)”. Let’s not jump to conclusions. It’s true that Caversham, near Reading, is the location of BBC Monitoring:

For nearly 75 years BBC staff at a sprawling stately home on the outskirts of Reading have been listening in to some of the world’s most seismic events, from Nazi Germany’s occupation of Europe to the death of Stalin and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Since 1943 Caversham Park has been the home of BBC Monitoring, whose offices still summarise news from 150 countries in 100 different languages for the BBC.

Caversham Park: End of an era for BBC listening station
Published 7th July 2016

It’s true that St Anthony’s College, Oxford, where PG went next, is informally known as ‘spy school’ but not everyone was involved, as another alumna points out:

I myself was not a spy, even though the place I was doing my Soviet history doctorate, St Antony’s in Oxford, was notorious in both the British and Soviet press as a “spy college”, having been founded after the war by ex-intelligence people.

It’s also true that PG, from criticising Ukrainian state crackdowns on journalism (by beating up journalists) in 2014 changed her tune when the 8-year conflict started to be reported by the BBC, claiming that most people there understood why the media and the opposition parties has been repressed.

Caversham also has a rather nice golf club. And there were plenty of other Oxford language and politics graduates involved in espionage who attended other colleges. Finally, the person posting as Zanon, in the 22nd comment on the Moon of Alabama 2018 article “British Government Runs Secret Anti-Russian Smear Campaigns” who lists her name next to that of Ian Bond, is probably just making it up.

So, a middle-aged Englishwoman, lecturing in Political Communication at one of Scotland’s Russell Group universities—who moved from Crewe to Caversham and Moscow, with a Modern Language degree then a Master’s in Russian & East European Studies at a notorious Oxford college—despite her doctorate in Politics and a respectable body of academic work (such as the Bad News series from the Glasgow University Media Group) on critical engagement with propaganda, disrespected democracy by using her public platform to uncritically push UK Government policy and to take great virtue-signalling umbrage at my suggestion that the current stage-managed theatre of war in the media is a pantomime of politics.

As “monitoring” seems to signify espionage, my question is: what critical distance from her assigned teaching subject of the political communication in general and in particular of various governments, including that of the UK, Russia and the Ukraine, can PG claim to employ as a lecturer…if she is, or was, a spy?

A once-beautiful bejewelled hard-faced woman has window blind shadow across her face with a mystery man, drinking with his shirt unbuttoned in the background of a darkened room.

Thanks to Hal Harrison for releasing his image Film Noir into the public domain.

Kirky Players Singathon!

(Appeal from our organiser)


I’m reaching out to you today to see if you are able to help a great wee Club that I’m a member of, the Kirkintilloch Players.

Lockdown had a massive impact on all amateur drama clubs and we were no different. We lost our regular income for the best part of two years and, lucky as we are to own our own theatre, this incurs substantial monthly and yearly costs and, in addition, we had massive repairs to undertake over the lockdown period. This has left our bank balance a little sparse!

As we approach our centenary, we are determined to continue staging the very best of amateur theatre for you, our audiences! To this end, on Saturday September 10th the Turret theatre will be filled with singing for 12 hours! No mean feat! We’d love you to sponsor us or join us!

Entry is £5 on the door and you can stay as long as you like—you can even join in! We hope to go live on Facebook throughout the day and if you are unable to join us in person, we’d be incredibly grateful for your sponsorship. (9am—9pm)

We know these are tough times for everyone but every little bit will really help. Thank you all for your continuing support of our wee club. 🎭 🎶 ♥️

Scottish Community Drama Association SCDA Glasgow District SCDA Western Division

You can donate at https://www.justgiving.com/kirkintillochplayers

(I’m taking part! 😱)

Kirky Players production of Murder on the Nile

Insubstantial Pageant—“The Tempest” by Bard in the Botanics: a review

Disconcerting, awkward, with some lucid moments, painful and embarrassing to witness, Nicole Cooper’s adaptation and direction of Shakespeare’s last solo play has almost none of the sympathetic magic of Bard in the Botanics’ Medea. Alan Steele underwhelms as Prospero, muttering majestic lines almost inaudibly while fidgeting with his ratty cardigan then suddenly giving vent to crazed shouted rants. Jennifer Dick, unlikely Ariel (why the purple hair?) and Nurse has rare moments of celestial spell casting but mostly is a wry, compassionate and practical carer. Lynsey-Anne Moffat is every woman who ever loved a failing father, as admirable Miranda, and nicely evil as Antonio. Nicole Cooper, in time-honoured tradition of the director stepping in for an absent actor, brought a butch n’ femme energy to her romantic role as Ferdinand and at least some petulant power to Caliban.

Halfway through, when I really wanted to leave, I observed my emotional reaction and worked out why I hated it. I’m an unpaid carer, both my parents have had dementia. My employer is trying to sack me for standing up for disabled rights. I’m just back from a short holiday which was (mostly) lovely for my mother but no respite for me. I was looking forward to an evening of captivating escapism and instead I was confronted with all my domestic stress onstage.

The craft of theatre is such that last month I was ready to forgive a murderess of children and yet this I struggle to find sympathy with an old man losing his mind. The most poignant part for me (I didn’t cry) was Prospero failing to turn on the radio. I saw my father hopefully pushing the DVD of The Great Escape into the video recorder.

No, it didn’t make sense. The glasshouse/ care-home transition wasn’t clear and the cross-dressed actors playing doubled roles of characters mistaken by a mad old man, switching often without a change of costume, was confusing. Ariel’s prettiest lines were spoken to the lively golden carp in the pond as she exited towards the sound desk—and throwing away Miranda’s most famous line on a potted plant is frankly unforgivable.

But it’s the banality of death by dementia, gradually losing the loved one who once stood robed in might and could command the elements, that’s the drama of this performance which I was so desperate to avoid. Because I can’t and no-one who cares can.

Disconcerting, awkward, with some lucid moments, painful and embarrassing to witness, dementia is a misunderstood tragicomedy happening all around us. Caring for someone losing their mind means bursting into tears at the sink, drying your eyes and making yet another bloody cup of tea.

I hated this performance because it took me inside a failing mind, once so wise, that I can’t fix. Go see it!

Suited portly older White man with beard holds a lit lantern in advert for The Tempest: adapted & directed by Nicole Cooper. 14th-30th July.

Advert from: https://www.bardinthebotanics.co.uk/productions/2022/the-tempest

This Story Is True—“Medea” by Bard in the Botanics: a review

The classics scholar Martha Nussbaum titles a chapter in The Fragility of Goodness, her magisterial work on tragedy, “This story isn’t true”, a reference to the Palinode (recantation) of Stesichorus in Plato’s Phaedrus 243a.

Stunned this evening by the performance of the erstwhile lovers under Gordon Barr’s direction of Medea, this phrase came to mind but as affirmation not pious negation: this story is true.

Kathy McCain’s plain spoken version starts, as does Euripides’ lyrical original, with the Nurse as narrator—but rather than relating the back story of the Argonauts and the Golden Fleece, the devoted servant, played with forthright Scotch common sense by Isabelle Joss, states “this is not a love story”.

And yet, Nicole Cooper as Medea is (at first) so lovely. We feel this woman; those of us in the double rows of seats lining the link section of the Kibble Palace who know the story ken fine what she will be driven to do but, already, she has won our sympathy.

By the time the strapping Johnny Panchaud playing Jason strides into the scene (could this man look any more like the perfection of masculine beauty?) we are not immune to his considerable charm—and, clearly, neither is his ex-wife Medea—but our hearts are already taken and as charm fades into smarm the chilling modernity of the version hits us.

This is not a love story, it’s a story about ambition, manipulation, rejection, and gaslighting.

Alan Steele does well as Creon and the Tutor, the former adding menace and the latter plot points, but anyone who has experienced the persuasive power of a master manipulator—either in domestic or workplace abuse—can understand why the physical threats of the King matter little to Medea: Creon may hold her life in his hand but Jason has crushed her heart.

90 minutes is a very long time to maintain almost constant emotional intensity. The few workaday props give the female characters some business and the sparse music and subtle lighting adds tension but Cooper is emoting onstage most of the time—and we simply cannot take our eyes off her. Nor she us. An extraordinary ability to elicit complicity. We feel we are her friends.

The Greek speech is so well done. Language in this version is a gift, not a barrier. “To ksero, I know”, Medea tells us, “den thelo tipota, I don’t want anything”. It adds to her exotic appeal and, shrieked offstage, indicates her raving madness.

This is a woman driven mad by a man everyone else thinks is a hero. The moments when they embrace are precisely such a mindfuck because that’s exactly what gaslighting is: attempted mental rape. This story is true because a myth observed with attention highlights the painful realities of our human experience (ancient or modern our nature doesn’t change) that we would rather ignore.

The poet recanted after being struck blind, for the impiety of blaming Helen, daughter of a God, for the destruction of Troy. Perhaps we should judge Medea with similar caution: diabolical and divine, mother and murderess, this stunning performance by Bard in the Botanics bids us ask ourselves—under such circumstances, life torn asunder by men, a cruel king and a callous hero, backed by an army, can we really blame her?

Advert for Medea running 23rd June – 9th July on https://www.bardinthebotanics.co.uk/

Backstage at the Panto

Backstage, during a pantomime, is an odd place. Actors rush up and down stairs, still putting on their costumes, and communicate with each other and with the stage crew in frantic gestures. No-one speaks. Everyone’s listening. Props and scenery are being whisked on and off, during blackout, and the Stage Manager’s word (or signal) is LAW! No-one questions her authority. There’s no time to renegotiate your entrance or your already-blocked moves. The Director isn’t even there. He’s up the back of the hall with Sound and Lighting. Worrying. You live for the applause, or the boos. They’re really the same thing. It’s the strength of the reaction that shows if the audience are enjoying the show. When I was playing the Baddie in Aladdin, a couple of years ago, at the end of Act 1 a wee boy in Row 2 audibly called me “a jobby”. I strutted back into the dressing-room exultant! Take that Olivier! I thought. High praise!

Caught up in the performance, with the doomed romance of the pretty Hapless Heroine (who probably does kickboxing) and the Handsome Prince (who’s a boyish girl), with the slapstick antics of the fools, all meticulously rehearsed, the exaggerated dramas of the Dame (who’s a man) and the carefully choreographed cries and dance routines of the Chorus, the audience forgets – or never realises – that backstage at the panto we’re all friends. Everyone’s working together. The Hapless Heroine helps me on with my heavy robe – before I go onstage and capture her. The main Fool (the Daftie in Scotland) has a degree in astrophysics and is best mates with his rival – who’s just about to plaster his face with a custard pie. The Chorus aren’t really shocked by my latest Evil Deed. They knew it was coming. They just want to do their number so they can troop downstairs (Shhhhh! says the Stage Manager) and grab a Coke and a KitKat before they’re back on for Act 3.

The conflict in Ukraine is a panto because everything in the Theatre of War is a performance. Right now, a young woman who’s recently been…

  • a beauty blogger
  • pregnant
  • bombed
  • twice
  • dead
  • queuing up for bread
  • a refugee
  • captured
  • freed
  • all of the above, simultaneously

…is now apparently safe and sound in Russia and confusing everyone on Twitter. Don’t ask me what the truth is. I don’t know. I do know that this is political theatre. It’s a panto.

Unlike a friendly neighbourhood panto, in the Theatre of War the participants risk more than a stubbed toe falling over a stage weight supporting the flats. Participation is usually not voluntary and even when there is an actual Baddie, the Goodies aren’t that good. Ask any older Russian what they think about the Yalta Agreement. Or ask an old German about carpet bombing. Ask yourself why you’re surprised that in WW1 the British Army shot shell-shocked soldiers in a pretty little Belgian town called Poperinge, surrounded by Flanders fields. And we all know about Abu Ghraib. No? Look it up. If you have the stomach for it. I’m not providing a link.

The fact that some Ukrainian battalions apparently have links to Neo-Nazi groups, that the persecution of ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine has been going on for 8 years and that NATO is using this fake war to play checkers with China doesn’t mean that there aren’t real people caught up in it. I don’t know who those people are, clingfilmed to Ukrainian lampposts, beaten, stripped, raped and doused with water, left to freeze to death. I know that people have been reporting Russian deadly homophobia for years so before you jump to that conclusion – no, I’m not a fan of Putin!

There are wheels within wheels at play here. Suddenly all the slebs are focussing solely on this drama, ignoring the release of Pfizer data on adverse reactions and the conviction of smiling Ghislaine Maxwell – and all the political blackmail that went on with everyone on the guest list at Jeffrey Epstein’s island – as well as the long list of other countries in conflict: #Yemen #SaudiArabia #Palestine #Israel #DRCongo #Syria #Afghanistan #Ethiopia #Eritrea #Colombia #Myanmar #Algeria #BurkinaFaso #Cameroon #Libya #Mali #Mozambique #Niger #Nigeria #SouthSudan #Tanzania #Tunisia #Chile #Venezuela #Iraq.

Backstage at the panto, everyone is cooperating. They’re read the script and they’ve rehearsed the moves. Someone might muff their lines or dry up but that’s no problem. There are plenty more to take their place. People get cut all the time in this production. It’s not only the jokes that die onstage. There are trap doors and not everyone gets the heads up.

The Stage Manager is in charge. In agreement with the Director. No, I don’t know who they are either. But I know that they’re there. And I know that all they want is for you to sit back – and enjoy the show.

Just watch out for the forced Audience Participation. At the Finale.

Scary Clown Faces

Thanks to Circe Denyer for releasing her image Halloween Whispering Clowns into the Public Domain.

How to succeed in fairytales

As the end of Lockdown approaches our perspective may change (if we’re at all wise) from fighting a fictitious plague in our immediate vicinity to resisting a very real transnational – and transhumanist – adversary. One whose plan is to take over the world and subject all us common folk to perpetual surveillance, harvesting our biodata to better the algorithms that run the robots. You think this sounds like bad Science Fiction, don’t you? Yet it’s already happening in China. And, are they resisting? In China? Puleeze!

Don’t be so smug – after all, you’re not resisting either, are you? You don’t even want to admit what’s really going on. If you did, you’d then have to wonder what you could do about it. The problem with that is, at the moment, no-one seems to have much old-fashioned gumption. (That’s a mostly Scottish word for initiative, enterprise, lively intelligence, know-how and opportunism.) Thinking about what to do about this global techno-fascist takeover would involve thinking about what to do about other things that need sorted out – and that means the dishes and the laundry basket and the back garden and the TV aerial and that squeaky board on the landing upstairs. As well as your family, friends, romantic relationship and bank balance.

So, instead, we tend to just make more coffee, break out the biscuits and watch another episode of some TV series with the same plot as all the others (mildly marginalised ambitious young pretty White woman beats the boys and the Blonde Complete Bitch with the help of her friends: fat/ disabled, geeky/ gay and African-American with European features). Because it’s easier to imagine an upbeat ideal life of conquering adversity than to deal with the depressing downbeat reality of our own.

Well that’s not how they succeed in fairytales. (And it’s not how to get ahead on Netflix either, but that’s for another blogpost.) To succeed in fairytales, there are rules you must follow – and the first one is to ACCEPT THE REALITY OF YOUR SITUATION. Sounds trite and unhelpful, and yes Cinders did sing Someday My Prince Will Come but she also swept the floor, and it was because she was hardworking and could follow instructions that the Fairy Godmother bothered to turn up at all.

Which leads us to the next one: USE WHATEVER ADVANTAGES YOU’VE GOT. Fairytale heroines tend to be beautiful, it’s true, and the heroes tend to be at least agile and often strong (Jack was a farm labourer, and the Woodcutter cut wood, which means they both had muscles, Aladdin was a street urchin nifty on the rooftops to evade capture, which means he was skilled in parkour). However there are more natural advantages than being muscular, lithe and beautiful. ABILITY TO TAKE ADVICE is essential – especially when the advice is unconventional, even counter-intuitive (which means it sounds daft). USING YOUR SKILLS is key. And false modesty here is only cute the first time, then you have to get on with it. “Oh but I’m only a cow herd” is fine but if that’s what the plot calls upon you to do, get herding!

You do get extra points for having a skill that everyone else thinks is useless. Because, in a time of crisis, sure as Fate it’ll turn out to be just the thing! A Prayer for Owen Meany is a lovely modern American fairytale illustrating that very point.

Furthermore (as my students will write) it’s good to have ambition, as that may be rewarded – as long as it doesn’t shade into hubris, which leads straight to disaster – but the important personality trait is OPPORTUNISM. Now, you have to be careful with this because some do succeed by jumping off the back of a bigger animal at the last minute and so winning the race (I’m looking at you, Lunar Year Rat!) but that’s risky because another winning quality is KINDNESS. Especially to the old, the young, the marginalised and, of course, animals. People have entertained angels unwittingly. Be kind. You just never know who you’re dealing with. Yes, it’s its own reward – but if anyone has the secret recipe, or that old rusty key, or the map to the buried treasure, it’ll be that minor character you helped back in Act 1. Be kind. It’s worth repeating.

WORK HARD. What? You thought this was going to be easy? You try climbing a skyscraper beanstalk or walking right through Wilderland, including the Barrowdowns, Mirkwood and the Misty Mountains, from west to east. PERSEVERE. You’ve switched on the kettle and the TV, haven’t you? Next rule: DON’T KEEP MOANING! The audience will go right off you, Tinkerbell will flutter by and the woodland creatures will turn up their pretty noses and just scamper off. Complaint is so unattractive. There are worse off than you. Just stop it!

BELIEVE. I know I’m going to get into trouble for saying this but it doesn’t really matter in what, as long as it’s better than this. However, be canny, don’t be misled, DISCERN WELL. How do you know who to trust? BE OBSERVANT and FOLLOW YOUR HEART.

RISK. Yes. Maybe not everything and certainly not all at once. But take a chance on life. The tales of Sinbad the Sailor are all about the ups and downs of Fortune. Now you can get religious about this and start talking about the Will of God and all that. And maybe that’s the point of the 1,001 Nights of Scheherazade, the epic and inventive storyteller who wove tales to save her own life. And succeeded. But whether or not there’s a Divine Will controlling all events, what’s plain as the nose on your face is that (despite all those tedious New Age teachings to the contrary) it’s not you and it’s not anyone else.

That means that your road is open for you to follow and no-one stands in your way. The Universe may not be conspiring for you but it’s not conspiring against either. So get out there and get on with it! FOLLOW YOUR DREAM.

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings)

Gloomy forest around a mysterious lake

Thanks to Larisa Koshkina for releasing her image Gloomy Forest Background into the public domain.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

Having played one of two or three men dressed in rags chained to the floor for two hours, I know what it’s like to have a lot of lines and few props. Lewis Baird and Abbie McIntosh, bringing life to the lead characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, have a lot of lines with not a lot of sense (in the absurdist tragicomedy at the Turret Theatre this week) so their challenge is even greater. Fortunately they not only have a great memory for them but also the charming youthful bewilderment that aids their delivery in this terribly bewildering play.

My theatre companions loved it but I personally don’t like absurdist drama. I like a play with meaning and I resist the kind of meaningless repetition in Tom Stoppard’s script because I find it excruciating. It makes me feel like all the times I’ve waited for annoying boyfriends to change their annoying behaviour (spoiler alert: they never do) or all the times I’ve cared for people with dementia and had the same conversation over and over again. I just can’t stand it.

And neither can Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (interchangeable in this play). And maybe that’s the point. So I knew what I was letting myself in for; and while I can’t say that I was really into it, I also can’t say that I didn’t get something out of it. But what that is, is anyone’s guess. What I do know is that The Player, Hilary Lynas, as always, shone. And her poor Players, Adam Cooper, Chris Dunn and Patricia Leeson, adapted themselves (indeed contorted themselves) into their sundry situations hilariously.

Claudius, Gertrude and Polonius (Robert Benison, Elaine Martin and Jillian Vincent, respectively) have a difficult role in that their characters lack the comic appeal of the above-mentioned actors and yet must not eclipse the aloof gravity of Hamlet (played magnificently by Andrew Henderson). Theirs is the dialogue that should make most sense but, presented piecemeal, sounds most ridiculous. They all walked this theatrical tightrope very well.

A good stage manager’s work is not only never done but also invisible and such was the case with Gillian Monroe’s, ably co-ordinated with her sound and lighting colleagues, Robbie Soutar (kudos for the unexpected selection) Michael Hand and Ian Atherton. The set, basically a black diorama curtain, was suitably minimal but I did like the chessboard floortiling – foregrounding that it’s all a game (with apparently no rules) as Sheila Todd’s semi-adjustable costuming showed that, dressed in rags or riches, the play’s the thing.

Even if it really doesn’t make any sense.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, at the Turret Theatre, Kirkintilloch, runs till Saturday 4th May 2019. Tickets: http://www.kirkintillochplayers.co.uk/tickets/