On Holiday

I’m on holiday, by the way. If you are trying to get hold of me, I’ll be back in the office next Friday. I’m not reading e-mails for a week and any posts on here may or may not have been posted in advance.

As I’m not available to provide entertainment and delight, you could always watch this video:

Sermon preached on 25 April – all about bishops

What with the reading being all about sheep and shepherds and with +Gregor being consecrated, it seemed like a good weekend to preach about the episcopate. Here's what I said:

On Friday evening, this place was packed full with guests for the consecration of a new bishop. People had come from all over the diocese and indeed from right across the world to celebrate the ordination of Gregor Duncan as a new bishop. Not any old bishop either. Our bishop for us, here in this place. And its here in this building that he was enthroned in his cathedra, the ornate and I suspect deeply uncomfortable seat which is up by the High Altar – the seat of the bishop and the throne which allows us to be known as a Cathedral church. [Read more…]

Peter Pan – National Theatre of Scotland

Rating: ★★★½☆

Clap your hands if you believe in stage magic.

The National Theatre of Scotland’s latest show is full of big set piece theatrical experiences that make for an exciting if occasionally puzzling evening. Peter Pan comes home to Scotland in an extravaganza, which locates the Darling household in Edinburgh and Neverland as a place somewhere across the Forth Bridge, which is being built on stage even as we watch.

This setting is inspired, offering a grandiose reveal of Neverland beyond the girders of Victorian industry and eventually, a convincing pirate ship when a sail emblazoned with the skull and crossbones is raised up on the iron lattice work.

Many of the cultural symbols determined by JM Barrie’s play have become rather complicated for a modern audience in recent years. Can we think of Neverland without thinking of Michael Jackson? Can we be entertained without making judgements about the way gender is dealt with? Do we not hesitate before we can participate fully in a play in which fairies and pirates fight over who will take possession and control of a crowd of lost boys? A young boy crying out for his common fairy has resonances with us which may not help. This is a play which raises may puzzling psychological questions which remain long after the final applause has ceased.

However, this is not an attempt to explain or to resolve our deep-seated anxieties. It is an attempt to entertain. On those terms, it is a successful attempt to relocate Barrie’s play. We must hope though that the National Theatre of Scotland remains within a remit of trying to provide the best theatre in the world and doing so on Scottish stages and never begins to see itself as the primary teuchterizing force within Caledonian society.

John Tiffany likes dramatic entrances and having previously witnessed the bayonetted beginning of Black Watch and Alan Cuming’s behind landing on the Bacchae’s stage, we should not have been surprised to find Pan appearing from an unexpected corner. This is the first of many glorious pieces of stage-craft, without which the action would be slight and the narrative rather ponderous. Pan’s first appearance is completely upstaged by the advent of Tinkerbell though. In this production, its not so much Tinkerbell but Tinkerball-of-Fire who entertains us. The pyrotechnic business is dazzling and enchanting. Tinkerbell’s entrance was completely beguiling and left an audience utterly perplexed by how a ball of fire flew out from the Gods, under the Proscenium arch and down onto the stage. Similarly, the scene where Tinkerbell knocks over a bottle of arsenic and consumes it is astonishing. Pan is always meant to be precocious, but who could have expected that to be mirrored in such stunning stage-craft.

There are many glorious technical achievements. So many of them so well done that it comes as a surprise when other things miss the mark. Nana the Darling’s dog was never a success, pushed about in confusing manner. (And reminding this audience member how good Warhorse actually was). It was also surprising to see a technician so very obviously in Neverland providing the counterweight to some of the flying. Why was she not dressed as a pirate? There were also one or two shadows appearing on stage from the wings which should not have been there. Oh the irony, in a play in which Peter loses his shadow and cannot fly.

North British ballads and sea-shanties punctuate the action in a pleasant enough way without adding anything particularly helpful dramatically. This is a soundscape which never entirely descends into the Celtic-slush sounds which we love so much.

Amongst the company, Kevin Guthrie gives an secure lead to the production, discovering within himself a character which occasionally seems more Puck than Pan. Kirsty Mackay’s Wendy has the uphill struggle of convincing us that there is the voice of reason even within Neverland. She brings a confident sense of purpose to the role which wins out in the end.

Ultimately, it is the astonishing theatrical magic which steals the show. Worth going to see for that alone.

Updates: Other Reviews
Thom Dibdin in the Stage
Susan Wilson in the Caledonian Mercury
Joyce McMillan in the Scotsman – 3 stars
Mark Fisher


It isn’t every day you get to enthrone someone. (Many thanks to Gordon Smith for the picture).

Better well hung than ill wed…

I’m feeling just a tad smug about my first new year prediction at this stage.

Just saying.

A hung parliament is what we need and its looking increasingly likely we are going to get it.

Volcano, ash, processions

This volcano business is making a mess of my procession planning for Friday.

Register to Vote (Deadline TODAY!)

Today is the last day to register to vote in the Upcoming General Election. I recorded an interview with the Beeb last week in which I said I never tell people how to vote, but I do encourage people to make sure that they do vote. If people like us don’t vote, other people will! People who don’t vote don’t get the privilege of moaning about the result in my book, either.

(That interview was for this week’s upcoming Sunday programme on Radio 4, BTW)

Anyway, anyone who is not registered to vote but who can be registered can do so today, and you can find out more on the About My Vote website.

Sermon Preached on 11 April 2010

What, no blogging?

Sorry I’ve not been keeping up this week. It was off to the North West of England for me to got to the Deans’ Conference. (Cathedral Provosts are called Deans in Englandshire, Diocesan Deans are called Archdeacons).

Its the third one I’ve been to and this time it was the easiest to get to, fortunately. Most of the conference was in Manchester, but with one day in Blackburn. Very successful it was too. The theme this year was all about Urban Regeneration and how the church (and particularly cathedrals) might relate to that.

It was a very successful conference. I was somewhat relieved at the end of it to have just three hours or so on the train. Others were booked on flights and I suspect they had a long day ahead.

The Adventures of Mr Brouček

The following review also appears on Opera-Britannia.com
Rating: ★★★★☆
It is not difficult to see why performances of The Adventures of Mr Brouček are something of a rarity. The eponymous Brouček is whisked through time, space and circumstance in an opera whose score is at once challenging and beguiling. Scottish Opera’s collaboration with Opera North makes the best possible case for the inclusion of the piece in the modern canon yet this formidable production still leaves one unsurprised that this is only the second time the opera has been seen in Scotland. Indeed, it has been a long time since it was last seen, in an Edinburgh Festival performance in 1970, the premiere of the work in the UK.

Structurally, The Adventures of Mr Brouček barely hang together. In the first half, the consequences of Brouček’s boozing are a trip to the moon and a series of encounters with characters whom he remembers from his bar. In the second, his drinking takes him back in time to 1420 and the Hussite rising in Prague. Again, the characters of Brouček’s alcohol induced fantasy are based on those who inhabit his local. Though he (and we) recognise them, they deny all knowledge of him. Whether on the moon or fifteenth century Prague, Brouček is an outsider, a loner and a stranger.

It is perhaps this sense of alienation that has led John Fulljames to set the bar scenes not in the early twentieth century but in 1968. That clever choice of date is a clear attempt to link the two disparate stories together. The setting takes us to a time just before the moon landings and just at the time of the Russian intervention in what was then Czechoslovakia. The lunar fantasy of Act I can only make what sense it does, if it takes place before anyone on earth had the images of the moon landings fixed for good in the imagination. Meanwhile, we were encouraged to see the Hussite rebellion of Act II within the context of the ongoing struggle of the Czech nation which reached such a defining point in 1968.

All these changes in scene give much for a creative team to work on. Particularly striking throughout the evening was the use of both the projected video work of Finn Ross and the accomplished and striking lighting design of Lucy Carter. The video located the work in the 1960s and was by turn whimsical and unexpectedly beautiful. [Read more…]