Review of RJ Thomson’s play ‘Singapore’ by artist Ingrid Christie

August 19th, 2011

Generally shying away from productions involving audience participation I entered Rupert Thomson’s play with a little trepidation.  Any anxieties, in fact all anxieties were magically dispelled as I was taken on what could be described as a  philosophical and mutually constructed journey.

The play ‘Singapore’ begins with a volunteer from the audience taking centre stage with the sole director and actor (Mr Thomson himself).  Often an audience member is brought on a stage with the status of a pawn, yet here she was instantly bestowed with the highest rank and invited to read aloud from a manifesto and asked to convince Mr Thomson of the truth within it.

Questions and answers followed the reading and here began a profound experience.  The concept of the place ‘Singapore’ as an actual play unfolds with a gentle weaving of audience experience with the director’s own life-changing personal experience of the place Singapore.

The play meanders and shapes the human mind according to the participants, and just as in life, one never knows quite what will transpire.  However, as a place previously unknown to me, I was also furnished with many interesting facts about the pla(y)ce, most especially of its tranquility and generosity of spirit.

Singapore is theatre with the capacity to really connect people and I would highly recommend it, including for those who might otherwise avoid participative experiences, perhaps most especially so.

Singapore will be performed again on August 20 at 15:00. Tickets are £5 / £4 and available at






David Sedaris & Sue Perkins @Summerhall

August 17th, 2011

David Sedaris & Sue Perkins @ Summerhall for the Culture Show – Screened Thursday 18th August 7pm BBC2.

The Culture Show has taken up residence at Summerhall for the second time this August, to bring viewers the best of this year’s Edinburgh Festivals.

David Sedaris, Grammy Award nominated American humorist, writer, comedian, bestselling author, and radio contributor and Sue Perkins discuss; plastination, auto-asphixiation, Joaquin Phoenix, masturbation, nudist camps for senior citizens, boring murder trials, Spanish zombie movies, catheters & condoms, Kate Middleton & She-wees. These are  just a few of the highlights………….

David Sedaris & Sue Perkins from the Culture Show filming at Summerhall 16th August
David Sedaris & Sue Perkins from The Culture Show filming @ Summerhall 16th  Aug Photo Credit: Kitty Douglas-Hamilton


Summerhall: Site Fantastic

August 14th, 2011

By David Pollock
Published: 6/8/2011

A visually striking new venue with a quirky, eclectic programme, Summerhall’s highlights include an all-night where bunk beds are provided for audience members to sleep in. David Pollock gets a guided tour

The former Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies is a building with history, and – for the duration of this year’s Edinburgh Festival at least – a bright and unexpected future. Tucked away on a corner of the Meadows, a few minutes’ walk from the new Fringe hub around Bristo Square, the rechristened Summerhall will serve as a venue with a difference for the next three weeks, staging an eclectic variety of theatre, spoken word, music and film events.

On a guided tour of the building a few days before opening, these two eras of its life collide with one another in often striking fashion. The venue’s late-night bar is an L-shaped room at the heart of the building, with large, open windows on either side and a balcony framed by an ornate metal and wood balustrade along the south wall. “It was the dissection room,” points out Summerhall’s director Rupert Thomson with relish. “When we moved in it was filled with all these metal tables…”

Opened in 1916 but appearing much older, the building combines the elegant and the institutional in that way Edinburgh’s academic spaces do so well. Thomson points out a grand ballroom-like space, a beautiful assembly hall which will serve as the main performance area, but which will count among its shows one performed to audiences sitting in lifeboats on the floor. Elsewhere, smaller lecture theatres will host one-off events, including this weekend’s Scottish Independent Record Fair, which will feature acoustic sets by artists from labels including Fence and Chemikal Underground.

In a corridor below the grand reception hall, Thomson pauses. “It gets quite spooky when it’s late,” he muses. “I was chased through here by a crazy naked guy carrying a knife the other night, for example.” Alongside him Jorge Lopes Ramos laughs: he’s the Brazilian co-director (alongside Persis-Jade Maraval) of one of the most ambitious shows at Summerhall, an all-night reinterpretation of Euripides’s Greek tragedy entitled Hotel Medea. The “crazy naked guy” was one of his charges in full dress rehearsal mode, as is the room fitted out with a semi-circle of bunk beds for audience members to sleep in, and a “campaign room” with interactive multi-media equipment.

“Everyone knows what happens in Medea,” says Ramos, “we just offer a few surprises in how it’s presented. The length of the show is nothing new, back in the 1960s and 1970s you had 20-hour long performances, seven-day performances. What we do have is a very strong idea, an idea we commit to which comes with a lot of discipline and precision. Anyone who hears about it, they either say, ‘Never!’ or else they share the vision with us. They want that show to exist. They want the possibility of going to an overnight show from midnight to dawn where people take care of you and then share breakfast with you. They hear of it and they don’t want to miss it.”

The three-word mantra Hotel Medea is informed by is “immersion, participation, interaction” – so much so that an audience-responsive event entitled Audience As Document has its own place on Summerhall’s programme and a corridor in the building will be given over to a display from similar past events. One spinner stand, says Ramos, will be filled with past funding applications for the show, “successful on one side, unsuccessful on the other – you can guess which one will be most full.”

“We require long-term collaboration and shared vision from a venue,” he continues. “There needs to be an understanding of the principles of looking after audiences, and a dedication which goes beyond any normal schedule of work. We need to run the whole show for a week before it opens just to tech it, for example. The actors need to get into their night-time sleeping patterns. The show has to be adapted to each new venue. We even have to consider when the sun will come up.” The finale is precisely synchronised with the dawn, the time of which will change by 30 minutes between the start and the end of this run.

Ramos and Thomson, both 29, met each other at a cultural leadership programme at Battersea Arts Centre (a producing partner and sponsor of Summerhall alongside the DeMarco Archive Trust), and they seem to enjoy a shared rapport when it comes to work that’s envelope-pushing, if not outright experimental. “Having seen it, you’ll remember Hotel Medea for the rest of your life,” says Thomson, the former editor of Edinburgh arts magazine The Skinny and the programmer of last Fringe’s Roxy Art House events. “It reminds me of those really big nights out when you were younger, where you would stay up all night and it would be worth it. As you get older those nights would blur into one, whereas this is a similar shared experience that has the same genetic penetration of committing that much of your physical effort to it. You won’t forget it.”

Hotel Medea is just one of many events which Thomson has programmed because they “interrogate their form of choice”, for example readings by authors like Stewart Home, Iain Sinclair and Tom McCarthy, and a series of “cineconcerts” – bands playing over film. “I like the way that challenges your sense of what music’s for,” says Thomson, “and what film’s for, and it’s a very strong overlap. You see the band as well as the film, and you can’t forget they’re there.”

It’s the kind of mouth-watering programme that suggests Summerhall could be a cult hit of this year’s Festival, although the “sold” sign on the billboard outside is a longer term portent. Thomson is entirely unsure if it might return in 2012, but at this point his only responsibility is to lay down a marker.

Thomson says: “Right now, all I want Summerhall to do is inspire people as much as it has the potential to. Our job is to put on a really exciting festival that people talk about and that’s ready to happen again in future, and to work with the building in doing that. It gives a lot, and to try and homogenise that space would be quite wrong.”

• Hotel Medea is at Summerhall until 27 August, Fridays and Saturdays only (plus Thursday 25 August); today at 11:45pm. The Scottish Independent Record Fair is at the venue tomorrow from 1pm. For full details of Summerhall’s Fringe programme, visit

These Silences preview from The Scotsman

August 11th, 2011

Preview: These Silences

By Stuart Kelly
Published in The Scotsman: 11/8/2011

Stuart Kelly wanders away from Charlotte Square to look at a new writing event that could prove to be the ‘fringe’ the Book Festival has always been missing

It is often said that the greatest testament to the success of the Edinburgh International Festival is the Fringe. Over the years, as the Book Festival has become larger and more established, there have been numerous attempts to create a book festival fringe. Word Power Books still hosts a fringe with a clear-cut commitment to left-wing authors. The boutique West Port Festival, having carved out its own niche over three years as a satellite to Charlotte Square, is now running in the autumn. There have been spoken word events from Writers’ Bloc and performance poets like Luke Wright, and it could be argued that the Unbound events in the evening in the Speigeltent at the Book Festival are an attempt to bring some of the fringe event aesthetic into the fold of Charlotte Square.

The These Silences Writing Festival, which starts today at Summerhall, the new performance space in the former Royal Dick Medical College, is the latest contender. It might also be the one with most potential. The Book Festival thrives on the diversity of its programme – bringing everyone from sex therapists and CIA spooks to stand-up comedians and politicians into one venue. These Silences is unashamedly partisan in its literary tastes, showcasing some of the most interesting experimental writers in the country. It’s a small but crucial difference that These Silences is a writing festival, not a book festival. Its manifesto states that “just as realist painting lost its appeal for many artists after the invention of photography, so many writers abandoned naturalistic storytelling after the development of cinema. These Silences turns the spotlight on novelists who have overhauled and re-invented modernist developments in fiction, to bring up-to-the-minute literary experimentation kicking and screaming into the 21st century”.

Curated by Rupert Thomson, the former director of the much-missed Roxy Art House, These Silences boasts appearances by Booker short-listed novelist and general secretary of the International Necronautical Society, Tom McCarthy, and the “Neo-ist” provocateur Stewart Home, author of 69 Things To Do With A Dead Princess and a novel with a four-letter title that WH Smith famously refused to stock, and a writer who went on “art strike” during the Thatcher government.

“Literature is undergoing a largely invisible crisis,” says Thomson. “The world is changing fast and the common forms of literary production are not keeping pace. The writers chosen for These Silences do not offer a simple answer as to ‘where we should be going’, or what work matters now. But they are all those who are not afraid of crisis, who build it into the very fabric of their work. That alone is exciting, but to bring a number of them together over a short period of time, for me, opens up new vistas of interest and opportunity.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Home: “I think the conventional literary novel predicated on characterisation has been dead for more than 100 years, but the corpse of literary fiction is always being stuffed in the mouth of emerging cultures. These Silences was a way of allowing a dynamic cultural current to speak without the hindrance of having a corpse in its mouth.”

The biggest coup for These Silences is the appearance of Iain Sinclair, the most prominent British exponent of psychogeography, whose new work, Ghost Milk, anato-mises the folly and ulterior motivations behind the London Olympics site. Ghost Milk confirms Sinclair’s reputation as “a toxicologist of the 21st-century landscape”. Sinclair has never attended the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and his appearance at Summerhall is in keeping with his long commitment to preserving and promoting the forgotten avant-garde pioneers of London.

London, or rather King’s Cross, looms large in the work of Iphigenia Baal, whose newly published The Hardy Tree is a work in the same exciting vein. Although one might wonder if Edinburgh requires a radical transfusion from London, perhaps the most exciting appearance at These Silences is Bridget Penney. Born and raised in Edinburgh, and shortlisted for the Saltire Prize back in 1991, she is perhaps better known amongst aficionados of the surrealist tradition than in the salons of “tartan noir”. Her novel Index, published by the innovative Book Works, is a salutary reminder that the novel is capable of more than soap opera plotting and Moral Maze “dilemmas”. Other writers include the Language poet and Afro-futurist Anthony Joseph and Katrina Palmer, author of the deliberately elusive and allusive The Dark Object. There is also a discussion of the “cut- up technique” of Burroughs and Brion Gysin from Ed Robinson. By any standard this is a challenging and intriguing line-up. As Tom McCarthy says: “The most interesting writing in Britain at the moment is coming from that corner of the literary world that intersects with the worlds of visual and conceptual art. To have figures like Stewart Home and Katrina Palmer on the same bill is a real gift for Edinburgh.”

Although These Silences has the blessing of Book Festival director Nick Barley, and Thomson is quick to applaud the increased amount of experimental work in Charlotte Square, he also claims that “most of the book festivals I have been to are not thrilling. Individual talks can be, but the atmosphere tends to be very sedate. We have deliberately created a special ‘conference ticket’ for These Silences, because we want to bring together a group of authors, enthusiasts, thinkers and artists to share ideas and inspiration, in a way that will hopefully galvanise interest in experimental work, but also be the seeding ground for new practices, collaborations, and new work.”

The true test of These Silences might not be this year, but what emerges from it next.

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