Oedipus Rex: Reviewed

Graphics: Britton Struthers

When I first heard of the opportunity to review Mermaids’ recent production of Oedipus Rex, I jumped at the chance. We had just read the iconic Greek tragedy in second-year English, so this modernization seemed, given the circumstances, too good to miss. What I found was a spiralized, dystopian rendering of the play, one whose bleak, monochromatic set and multimedia approach played out like a Black Mirror episode in the flesh.

This production, written and directed by Gabriele Uboldi and produced by Chloe Ashley, was nothing if not complex. Even as someone familiar with the plot, there were parts of it I found difficult to follow. Uboldi’s fresh approach to the tragedy was constructed as a sort of descent into madness, but often that madness obscured points of plot. The script, however, was very well-written, particularly the monologues given to a number of characters. Additionally, the technical elements – voiceovers, videography by Finn Antrobus, original music by Annabel Steele, live DJ-ing by Zoe Ruki, and much more – all felt well-incorporated, a difficult achievement when so many things are fighting for the audience’s attention.

One aspect that felt a little flat to me was the choreography, which was well-staged by Sarah Julia Greenberg but not always well-executed. There was a disparity in ability across the cast that revealed itself in the larger group numbers, to the point that it distracted from the seriousness of the content. Perhaps it could have been left out altogether in order for the play to retain a more ruminative note.

On the other hand, many of the production’s gambles paid off. The inventive element of multiple Oedipus’s (Isabelle Cory, Charles Vivian, Miriam Woods, Martin Caforio) really demonstrated the breadth of these actors’ abilities, as they moved in and out of this demanding role fluidly and without breaking tempo. But perhaps my favorite aspect of Uboldi’s rewrite was the way in which he handled Jocasta (Martina Sardelli). Deepened far beyond Sophocles’ original conception of her, Jocasta featured nearly as prominently as Oedipus – and rightly so, as only she suffers on the level Oedipus does. Sardelli’s performance strengthened that multifaceted depth, as she flaunted and raged even while subtly revealing a profound vulnerability in her character.

Overall, Uboldi has constructed a story that interweaves seamlessly through and upon itself, so full of careful details and structured levels that I almost feel like I need to see it again to truly comprehend and appreciate it. It is a testament to Western civilization that I can sit in a local theater in a small seaside town in Scotland and watch my fellow students reinterpret a tragic story of human feeling that has endured for thousands of years and is still able to captivate modern audiences. Certainly we have come a long way since Sophocles’ time, but at our emotional core and in our personal and political relationships to each other, we have, Oedipus Rex reveals, remained the same.

4/5 Owlies

Review: Sofar Sounds

On Sunday, I embarked on my first ever Sofar Sounds gig. Founded in 2009, Sofar’s ethos is to “reimagine live music” by hosting intimate gigs all over the world with a secret line-up in unassuming spaces, all to encourage a better connection between the artist and the listener.

I, being a Sofar virgin, didn’t know what to expect. The venue doesn’t get announced until the day before the event, which adds an extra layer of mystery but in a place like St Andrews, you’re bound to have a connection to it regardless. I didn’t, but I’m but a humble fresher still navigating my way through uni life.

So we get to the venue, a cosy living room by the pier, and try to find a place to sit. Sofar gigs are renowned for having the audience packed like sardines since the venues tend to be small but it’s a great icebreaker regardless. If you would rather have a choice as to where to sit, maybe get there early instead of 2 minutes before the start like I did.

So there I am, huddled into a corner of the floor, side against the burning radiator and regretting wearing Fila Disruptors and the room goes hush. We get a small talk from one of the event organisers about Sofar as a whole, and a run-down of the now revealed line-up. On that evening, we were graced with Asthmatic Harp, Elisabeth Elektra and Mauvey. Each artist brought something different but equally special to the night – Asthmatic Harp’s calming melodies, Elisabeth Elektra’s dynamic stage presence and Mauvey’s soulful voice.

What I like about Sofar is the opportunity to hear artists where you otherwise wouldn’t and truly experience the music in a room of like-minded people since they are likely just as clueless as to who they are as you. If there’s one phrase I can use to describe the experience, it’s good vibes. The atmosphere was very welcoming and cosy, and I’ve never experienced music like that before. I’ve been to live gigs before, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something about being in such an intimate setting that really works for itself. Not all gigs should be jumping up and down to the beat, sometimes it’s nice to just chill out with nice people to vibey music, personal space be damned.

Sofar are holding another event on Sunday the 8th March and I’d highly recommend you go, you can bet that I will be.

Preview: Oedipus Rex at the Byre Theatre

Graphics: Britton Struthers

“Daddy Issues” was the name given to one of an array of signature cocktails featured at the Oedipus Rex launch party last Wednesday night in Beacon Bar. A gusty combination of gin, cherry liqueur, and vodka, the concoction’s color echoed the vivid pinks and purples of the upcoming production’s posters, which in the past few weeks have been visibly plastered all over town.

This version of Oedipus Rex, set to take the stage at the Byre Theatre this week, is the brainchild of seasoned writer and director Gabriele Uboldi, whose work has graced the St Andrews stage a number of times in his illustrious career with Mermaids. He plans to take an entirely new production to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this summer before embarking on what is looking to be a promising career in playwriting and directing. Uboldi himself calls his adaptation of Oedipus a culmination of all he has learned and been working towards in his time at St Andrews, both in its technical challenges and in what he has garnered from the student theatre community here. The play certainly promises technical ambition, incorporating a polished array of elements including original videography, projections, choreography, and live DJing, some of which have been featured in Uboldi’s past work.

So, why Oedipus Rex? In the thousands of years since its first conception by Sophocles, Oedipus Rex has so captured the fascination of Western culture, even outside the world of the theatre, that it continues to be performed today. The troubling issues it poses have endured so far as to become integrated into our modern vocabulary, and a contemporary understanding of the play remains a powerful undercurrent in our approaches to the human psyche, most notably within Freudian theory. For Uboldi, Oedipus Rex represents a whole realm of still-relevant themes relating to storytelling and how we as human beings read ourselves in the narratives occurring around and through us. This play raises the question of how to react when you know the odds are already stacked against you, a question that in our current world of chaotic political and environmental turmoil is still each day begging to be answered.

In attending the launch party and in sitting down with Uboldi this week, I personally have felt a sense of convivial dynamism, not only from individuals such as Uboldi, but from the entire Oedipus team. It’s clear that this animated, close-knit collective is incredibly passionate about what it does. That passion promises to take the stage this week in an unmissable exploration of fate, the stories we are written into, and how we choose to tell them.

Oedipus Rex goes up in the Byre Theatre this Tuesday and Wednesday, 11-12 February, 7:30pm. Tickets are available on the Byre website:

A Doll’s House: Reviewed

I was hugely excited to have the chance to see this production of ‘A Doll’s House’ by Henrik Ibsen, as I have vivid memories of reading this play when I was fourteen in a National 5 English class (the Scottish GCSE equivalent, for anyone who is unfamiliar), and finding it a refreshing change to the never-ending deluge of Shakespeare that had been shoved down our throats up until that point. In all seriousness though, I remember being struck by the play’s powerful message of female empowerment that was ahead of its time, given that it was published in the late nineteenth century. 

The crux of the plot revolves around Nora Helmer’s realisation that she has been controlled her entire life, first by her father and then by her husband, Torvald. In order to pay for a trip to Italy to save her sick husband’s life, Nora borrowed money from Krogstad, a man of ill-repute, after forging her father’s signature. Initially, Nora is not troubled by her dishonesty; she and her husband are comfortable financially, and she is content with her role as an attentive housewife. But when Torvald becomes aware of her fraud, she is forced to re-evaluate her marriage. 

Given that the majority of the action is situated in the Helmers’ living room, the small and intimate setting of the Barron was perfect for this production. Director Charles Vivian and producer Alice Rickless did a great job in casting, as every actor shone in their role, and costumer Alex Rive excelled at dressing the cast in period outfits. With stripped-back tech and a fixed set throughout, the onus was really on the actors to deliver the show. They achieved that with flying colours. 

Fiona McNevin’s Nora was impressive. She fulfilled the difficult task of portraying Nora’s multifarious character traits: simple-minded and content with the boundaries society has imposed on her at the beginning, emotional and overwhelmed by her predicament during the bulk of the play, and resolute in her decision to walk out of the family home by the end. Sam Gray was superlative as Torvald; he exuded self-righteousness and arrogance throughout, and both he and McNevin had marvelous on-stage intensity which came to the fore during their high-octane exchanges in the closing scenes. Fran Ash was similarly exemplary as Nora’s compassionate yet level-headed confidant, Mrs Linde; Issy Cory was suitably attentive and caring as the maid Anne-Marie; and Liam Smith captured the menacing nature of Krogstad. Sebastian Durfee’s energy and enthusiasm as Dr. Rank provided a nice contrast to the heavier, more serious scenes, and McNevin’s panicked facial expressions while dancing the Tarantella made me and many other audience members chuckle. Another highlight was the door slam sound effect that punctuated Nora’s exit at the end as it heightened the drama in a way that I very much appreciated. On the whole, it should be said that the performance was seamless. Opening night nerves? Not a chance. 

As a reviewer, one often feels that one’s duty is to find some fault with the show, even if it is minuscule, but I genuinely cannot pinpoint any one thing that stood out as a detractor from the overall performance. Perhaps you could say the interpretation of the text was somewhat predictable – there was nothing totally unexpected, no unusual twists or reinventions. But that’s what made it so enjoyable. It would have been unnecessary to tweak this classic text; the real challenge was to execute the script’s nuances and make the characters and their relationships feel natural. The magic of this play is that Nora’s struggle is still as relatable as ever, and Vivian’s directorial vision emphasised this central concern excellently. The cast and crew should be immensely proud of their efforts – it was Mermaids’ last show of the decade, and they could not have gone out on more of a high! 

Five Owlies

On the Pebbles: Watercolour Workshop

On a cold, blustery November evening, the On the Pebbles watercolour workshop provided a warm haven of creativity and conviviality. 

The Next Door brasserie was a suitably-intimate space. It was a little crowded but this only contributed to the cosy, chatty atmosphere. Long tables were decked with paper, brushes and watercolour paints, along with bunches of dried flowers for inspiration. Novices and experts alike fully entered into the spirit of the event, producing a wide variety of artwork. 

Photography: Britton Struthers

An unexpected twist to the evening was the artistically-themed drinks menu, offering cocktails such as ‘show me the monet’ and ‘get michelangelow’…

The whole evening was accompanied by live music from student musicians; the relaxed, acoustic tunes undoubtedly set the tone of the event and got everyone’s creative juices flowing. Caroline and Blaine sung sweet harmonies with perfect pitching, and Kai Hewitt’s set towards the end of the evening had people humming along to well-loved classics.

Photography: Britton Struthers

As 10pm came around, the room was still filled with relaxed and happy painters: it was clear that nobody wanted to leave. The event was once again testimony to the excellent organisation and creativity of the On the Rocks team. We are sincerely looking forward to what they come up with next!

On the Pebbles: Jazz Café and Stand-Up Comedy

To wrap up their annual mini-arts festival, On The Rocks teamed up with Jazzworks to fill Sandy’s Bar with some lovely jazz tunes. As those acquainted with the band already know, Jazzworks provide the perfect setting for a chilled night with friends, and Saturday evening was no exception.

Musicians took turns playing and mingling, and satisfied the audience alternating between beloved classics (Fly Me to The Moon is always a crowd-pleaser) and upbeat tempos, for a good 2 hours. Everyone sat in groups on the sofas and enjoyed friendly chats over a drink, which all added to the laid-back atmosphere.

Photography: Addie Gray

Discussions occasionally stopped, but only to appreciate the music. Halfway through the evening, the room fell suddenly silent as the singer gracefully started the first notes of Feelin’ Good: this was undoubtedly one of the evening’s highlights.

Photography: Addie Gray

The event was then followed by a Stand-Up show brought by the St Andrews Comedy Society: a large crowd entered the bar for the occasion. Many students performed, and I was impressed by the courage they had to go up on stage and how they made people laugh.

Photography: Addie Gray

Overall, the evening showcased a good sample of what the St Andrews arts scene is capable of: a wide range of creative forms and expressions, all driven by passion (and talent!), bringing a crowd of people together to share it, and, first and foremost, organising a renowned and successful festival. This year once again, I am fully convinced by what On The Rocks has to offer and I left the event eager to discover what surprises they have in store for the upcoming semester!

Photography: Addie Gray

Chicago: Reviewed

Apparently, this entire Just So production was put together in just six weeks. It’s absolutely incredible that they were able to do so much in so little time: the music numbers are numerous, the set pieces are large, and the choreography is elaborate and physically demanding. To pull off even a halfway decent version of this musical in that amount of time would be tricky. Considering what a great job this team did, it’s easy to see that this was a labour of love.

There were certainly some hiccups due to the accelerated timeline. The music at the opening of the show was of questionable quality; the instrumentals improved greatly after the first five minutes, and remained largely on point throughout the rest of the evening, but the show did not start with its best foot forward. There were also a few technical glitches throughout the show — most noticeably at intermission, when the curtain rose and fell several times before finally deciding to close. There were also a few moments when actors’ microphones did not turn on until a few lines into their songs. The actors, admirably, never missed a beat in their acting and singing when their mics were on the fritz.

The set design was relatively simple, but clever: the musicians sat at the back of the stage with a platform on each side for actors to dance on. For the “Cell Block Tango” number, two large movable platforms with tall bars were brought onstage for the actors to dance with. It all worked perfectly for the purposes of the different scenes. My personal favourite stage item, however, was the big “Chicago” sign hanging over the stage; for most of the musical it acted as a backdrop, but in the “Roxie” number it flashed for emphasis every time Catriona Ferguson (Roxie) sang “Roxie!”, adding a great extra touch to an already great performance.

The costumes were typical of Chicago, with most of the women dressed very scantily (lots of fishnet tights). I loved the touch in “We Both Reached for the Gun” where the reporters were played by the actors who had just played the “murderesses” — they wore the same outfits but with large blazers over the top.

The choreography was, on the whole, excellent. Choreographer Caroline Gant did a particularly great job with “Razzle Dazzle”, filling the stage with sequined dancers as Coggin Galbreath’s slimy Billy Flynn showed Ferguson’s Roxie what a circus the justice system really was. The slinkier dance numbers suffered a bit, however, as some of the actors’ sashaying felt coached to the point of being mechanical. Both Ferguson and Catriona Kadirkamanathan (Velma) especially seemed to suffer from this, which is understandable considering how much they must have had to rehearse in a such a short time.

While they put a lot of energy into the big dance numbers, I must admit that my own favourite songs were the quieter, more contemplative ones. Elliot Seth Faber (Amos)’s rendition of “Mr. Cellophane” was a sobering scene, his raw and honest emotion contrasting starkly with Ferguson’s gleeful, selfish “Me and My Baby” right before. Kadirkamanathan shone in many of the bigger numbers (and made me laugh in “I Can’t Do It Alone”) but dazzled alongside Ella-Rose Nevill (Mama Morton) when they slowed down for their dancing-light, irony-heavy duet, “Class.”

In spite of its issues, this production of Chicago was a strong one. The actors took a challenging piece and really made it their own, and the final result was exciting and nauseating in all the right ways.

4/5 Owlies

Upcycling Seminar

Last year’s ‘On The Rocks’ innovation – a series of promo events in first semester, collectively called ‘On The Pebbles’ – has grown only more confident, with an expanded and ambitious programme. Saturday’s upcycling event was a testament to the increased importance of sustainability for the young artistic scene. In a town with so many all-important balls, parties, and dinners, with pressure to find something new to wear to each and every one of them, this event wasn’t to be missed.  

The upcycling session made good use of the Barron – not easy, considering the black box theatre can feel like an oppressively drab space. In the true spirit of On The Rocks’ style, there was an impressive light feature, woven through with flowers, which made for a great photo opportunity. Tables were laid out with embroidery, needles and graphic pens, for any one who had come along with the confidence and the artistic flair to get straight into crafting. For those like me who were unskilled at sewing (to say the least), those running the event were happy to help demonstrate how to sew a patch onto a complimentary OTR canvas bag. 

Photography: Georgia Luckhurst

As well as providing the materials and instructions to update your own clothing, there were two rails’ worth of secondhand items, none priced at more than four pounds. Going to charity shops to shop sustainably can prove difficult – you might find a hidden gem, but more often you’ll encounter the dross. The team had done an exceptional job of assembling genuinely gorgeous secondhand clothing, including a Topshop cocktail dress that had originally been priced at sixty-five pounds, and was now selling for four. 

Photography: Georgia Luckhurst

Throughout the event, the team were congenial and chatty, proving once again how justifiably proud of OTR everyone involved in the project is. It was a warm atmosphere, and one that was reflected in the loyal attendance. 

If the upcycling event is anything to go by, OTR have big plans up their sleeves for a festival that is going to be ever more environmentally-conscious and inventively scheduled. I can’t wait to see what comes next. 

Snore: Reviewed

Max Posner’s Snore is a 2011 play that focuses on a group of close-knit friends whose relationships fracture as they begin to face the travails of adult life. The play itself is full of comically absurd moments, eliciting laughs whenever the backstage team wheeled on a cumbersome toilet that provides a comic backdrop for emotional duologues between various couples. It’s best quality is Posner’s ability to mix the mundane with the profound and sometimes tragic, and Director Martin Caforio shows a keen understanding of the tone and style of his chosen subject matter.

Another strength of the production is the performances, which all combine youthful energy with a contemplative maturity befitting this transitionary period in the lives of the characters. Martina Sardinelli and Jack Detwiler as Nina and Tom give the show its emotional anchor. I found their relationship immediately believable and lived-in, yet unfortunately was disappointed as their relationship proceeded to break down and they shared less and less time on stage. While this may be the fault of the script, I felt as if there was not nearly enough explanation given to Tom’s lengthy absences (a case he’s working on is repeatedly brought up but is not given enough time to be properly fleshed out, jostling for attention with half a dozen inconsequential subplots).

Morgan Corby impresses in his first scene as Abe, an excitable ball of charisma and neuroses who conceals an aching insecurity that is revealed as the story progresses. However, just as with Nina and Tom I felt his character soon loses his way, becoming a rambling and often nonsensical component of an increasingly difficult-to-follow plot. Alongside these enthusiastic performances are gleeful cameos from Grace Thorner and George Watts as oddballs who, again, despite their noble efforts, do not seem to fit naturally into the script past their initial scene. Ella Dao as Ally was often too quiet and hesitant for her supposedly feisty character, though she certainly gained confidence as the play progressed.

As mentioned above, the script is sporadic and often neglects to conclude (or even initiate) arcs for certain characters. I couldn’t tell while watching the show whether the producers had decided to cut the script down so it would be more digestible, but I found a number of gaps in the plot and character development that left me feeling cold by play’s end.

Set is minimal, which creates a cosy, domestic atmosphere, but also begs the question of why scene transitions take so long. Every time a scene changes the audience is forced to sit through a few minutes of ambient music and stage dressers haphazardly pulling off coats, chairs or toilets. While the attempt is impressive, one feels it could be more efficient. This also sometimes bleeds through into line delivery; while some scenes crackle with the chemistry of the cast, far too many have lengthy silences and moments of obvious hesitation.

Overall, although the final product could be more polished and focussed, this is an ambitious and worthy effort for a first time production team. I look forward to what’s coming next from Lost Boot Productions … 

3/5 Owlies

Preview: On the Pebbles

As we collectively drown in Week 11 deadlines, find respite On The Pebbles with a jam-packed day of arts and culture. This appropriately-named launch event is in anticipation of On the Rocks, the largest student-run arts festival in Scotland, which will take place next April. 

For the ecologically-minded amongst us, there is a Clothes Upcycling seminar taking place at the Barron Theatre between 12-3pm, in collaboration with ‘Sustainable Style’. For £3 you will be provided with all the materials needed to spice up your winter wardrobe.

If you are looking to relax and rewind, Jazzworks will provide soothing tunes from 7pm in Sandy’s Bar, to be followed with Stand-Up from the St Andrews Comedy Society. A £3 ‘Sandy’s Pass’ will get you access to both.

One event Owl Eyes is particularly looking forward to is the Watercolour Workshop, an evening of painting and live music at the ‘Next Door’ brasserie on South Street, from 8pm.

If that wasn’t enough, consider dropping into the Music Café at Jannetta’s Gelateria, an art exhibition at the new Combini Café or enjoy some pop-up acapella performances at surprise locations throughout the town.

Offering an eclectic mix of events at a number of locations around town, On the Pebbles looks to be a promising day, ahead of the highly-anticipated On the Rocks festival in April. Details of all events taking place this Saturday 15th November can be found at the here