Raymond Soltysek's Blog

Hit Me! The Life & Rhymes of Ian Dury, Citizens’ Theatre, 22/9/10

Posted in Theatre review by raymondsoltysek on September 22, 2010
Ian Dury

Ian Dury

A boys’ night out.  Ian Dury is becoming a bit (more) of an icon, thanks to various articles, books and this year’s pretty damned good “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll” biopic with the seriously intense Andy Serkis and the seriously beautiful and talented Naomie Harris.  So it’s not surprising that theatre gets on the bandwagon with this bio-musical-drama.

It’s a good & bad experience.  The negatives are quite clear.  First, the script, when compared with the sheer inventiveness and joy of Dury’s lyrics, seems flat and limp: none of the linguistic dexterity that was Dury’s trademark is reflected in the lines he speaks in the play.  There is no such thing as bad language, only language badly used, and I suspect the real Dury would have used “fuck” and “cunt” with the effectiveness of a sniper, while author Jeff Merrifield relies far too heavily on a blunderbuss approach that rarely hits the mark. 

Secondly, there’s also a problem with exactly what the dramatic structure of this play is: there’s a world in which interaction occurs between the characters, yet much of the play steps away from this, and the two characters speak directly to the audience, churning out biographical information which many fans will already know.  Because of that, dramatic tension is in short supply.

As far as the performances go,  Mark White plays up Dury as a genially leering dodgems carnie, when, in reality, Dury played himself down in the same role; consequently, there’s little of the depth and duplicity of the original.  Much is said of Dury’s viciously manipulative nature and overpowering ego, but we never actually see it, and the result of this is that the fictional  Dury shares the stage with sidekick “Spider” Rowe (Josh Darcy), when the real  Dury would never, ever be content to share a stage with anyone on an equal basis.  

The plus side is that it’s undeniable fun.  Darcy does a killer Janet Street Porter impression, and White does a rousing job of the songs, though there’s none of the beautiful ugliness of Dury in his performance.  Still, he has the audience singing along and, in the final bellow of “Hit Me…” has many of them on their feet.  

All in all, it’s a play I’m glad I saw, but it offers nothing more than a toe-tapping nod at Dury’s hugeness of character and the impeccable musicality of The Blockheads.

“The Tailor of Inverness”, Citizens’ Theatre, 18/9/10

Posted in Theatre review by raymondsoltysek on September 19, 2010
Dogstar Theatre Company link

Matthew Zajac, "The Tailor of Inverness", Dogstar Theatre Company

Matthew Zajac worked on a script of mine a few years ago when he played the part of Neil in a BBC Education drama based on Robin Jenkins’ “The Cone-gatherers”.  He was excellent then, and he’s excellent still

His “The Tailor of Inverness” has rightly won a slew of awards for both his writing and his acting.  It’s a passionate and deeply personal exploration of his father’s background as a Polish immigrant to Scotland at the end of the War, and the secrets kept from his family about the life he lived before he was thrown half way across the world.

We share so many common threads I’m afraid he’s made my new novel redundant before it’s even finished.  His father was a Galician Pole, mine a deutsche volke Silesian, but the story of first marriages and unknown half-siblings is the same.  So too are many recognisable traits (a man who believes fatherhood is about providing for the family, the barely convincing justifications (“I couldn’t go back, I would be thrown into prison…”), the flashes of outward anger that are evidence of a decades-long inner battle) that made our fathers much, much more complex creatures than we ever believed. 

Zajac has advantages, though.  He obviously knows much about his extended family in Eastern Europe, which gives his drama a sense of a personal drama-documentary: with many of my trails having gone cold years ago, I’m relying on arms’ length fiction.  In addition, he’s brilliant at capturing those voices that need to be heard (how often I caught a nuance of my father’s accented English) and at immersing us in the whirlwind of the time.  He’s also totally comfortable in his father’s language, whereas my Polish goes no further than stumbling tourist and my German is non existent.  These give him an insight into his father that I am well aware I lack.

It’s a short, poignant, funny, surprising drama.  Zajac is expertly accompanied by solo violin and PowerPoint (a map which dizzyingly recreates the spaghetti journey of his father’s wanderings), and delivers a stunning performance.  I loved it.  If you get the chance, it’s a must-see.

Hoodoo Zephyr’s Inner Sanctum, 10/9/10

Posted in Music review by raymondsoltysek on September 12, 2010
Hoodoo Zephyr

Hoodoo Zephyr's website

Took advantage of being up in Aberdeen to visit my lovely pal Stuart and his gorgeous family; haven’t seen him for years (my fault).  Anyway, Friday evening is his rehearsal time with his band, Hoodoo Zephyr, and as he needs the practice, I went along to skulk in the corner and marvel.  These guys are good, as you’d expect with a bunch of musicians with a combined age of 189 (although there are 25 of them).

With lead vocalist, songwriter and all round charisma-merchant Freak, fantastic guitarist Geoff Sharp (hugely talented songwriter – hear his stuff on MySpace) and guru-like drummer Ken (host of Kenfest, an annual hootenanny that apparently attracts hundreds of musicians from as far afield as the Far East), the band has been together for years.  Stuart has just joined them, but he doesn’t look a bit out of place on bass. 

Can’t begin to describe their music better than in their own words: “Hoodoo Zephyr are an Aberdeen-based four-piece band who have been variously described as ‘Cosmic Rock’, ‘Eco Rock’, ‘Polk Rock’ (we think that’s a Punk/Folk mixture, but who knows, really…) ‘Hardcore Country and North-Eastern’, and ‘that bloody noise’ (Mrs. Gladys E. Thribb).”  Have a listen yourselves on the website.  Quality stuff.

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Northern Writes, Aberdeen, 10/9/10

Posted in Conferences, Education by raymondsoltysek on September 12, 2010

Had a good day working with Sixth Year pupils from Aberdeen’s secondary schools at the 10th annual Northern Writes conference.  Organised by Aberdeen City Library’s Curriculum Resources and Information Service (thanks, Iona, Jacqueline and all) it’s an opportunity for Advanced Higher students to meet and work with published authors.  As ever, some of the talent of the young people amazed me.  Nice to meet five other interesting writers – Alex Gray, Tom Murray, Pamela Beasant, Tim Turnbull and Isabel Wright. 

An enjoyable day that other authorities should think about replicating.

WPM5, Creation Studios, 5/9/10

Posted in fiction, Reading review by raymondsoltysek on September 8, 2010
Word per Minute
Words Per Minute

Word Per Minute continue their monthly showcase of writing in typical bright and breezy fashion, but it has a much more experimental air than WPM2, which I attended in June.  First up is Skye Loneragan.  She performs the first ten minutes of her new solo show, Plucked of Purpose – The adventures of PB.  Perhaps because we’re only seeing the briefest snapshot of the whole performance, it’s difficult to grasp the context of what’s going on, and just as it’s beginning to tip into something with a little more verve and wit, it has to end.

Kirsty Neary doesn’t quite hit the mark either.  Her prose reading is juxtaposed with a film show; however, the prose – an oddly phrased fantasy with nameless characters and switching perspectives – doesn’t build enough bridges with the reader / listener to make them want to care about what’s going on, and the film, which has some undeniably arresting images, ends with the rather clichéd and patronising “Here Endeth the Lesson”.  It’s a piece that sounds as if it has promise but needs a careful reworking.  She’s a young lady with bags of confidence, though: there’s already a multi-media disc of the work available at the show.

Sian Bevan is much more engaging; her brief story about a woman trying to break into a male dominated story-telling academy is nicely told.  Bevan is renowned as a stand up., and this is entertaining enough to suggest she’s worth catching.

By far the best for me, though, is the most “traditional” of the five acts; Kirsty Logan’s story, “The Rental Heart”, is a lovely little parable with a nice premise – that each new lover requires the insertion of a new mechanical heart.  It’s a poignant tale which is told beautifully by Logan in a distinctive, assured and persuasive voice.  Other than a slight time slip at the end – a jump in the timeline of three years to get to the denouement feels a little clunky – it’s a fine, fine story from a real talent.

Last up is Zorras, a multi-media performance troupe.  As with Loneragan, they perhaps suffer because of the brevity of the slot they’ve been given, and it’s difficult to really get into what they are doing.  However, musician Y. Josephine has a show-stopping blues voice.

The afternoon seems to lack a bit of oomph, which at the previous WPM was supplied by big hitters Sophie Cooke, Alan Bissett (albeit only in voice) and Adam Stafford.  Of course, WPM is about giving performance time to new writers, but this time I felt it needed something that just raised the bar a little.  However, it’s an event that’s growing into itself and is well worth supporting.

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New Creative Writing Support Materials

Posted in Education by raymondsoltysek on September 2, 2010

I’ve constructed some new support materials for the teaching of creative writing.  The materials also include some very useful videos of Scottish writers talking about their writing and giving advice to young people; here I am (with my name spelled wrong!) talking about early influences;

Find it at http://www.ltscotland.org.uk/nationalqualifications/resources/writingskills/index.asp