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

Reviewed: The Children’s Hour

When it comes to Peachy Keen Productions, I’ve learned to set my expectations high and wide open. The drive of this company is not toward reproducing what has worked for them in the past, but toward exploring and inventing something new. The Children’s Hour, directed by Rowan Wishart and produced by Anenti Winter, is no exception.

Lillian Hellman wrote the play in 1934, but this production feels fresh and contemporary with musical interludes by Kat Reynders and Anenti Winter, a brightly painted pop-up book of backdrops (à la The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil), and some remarkable performances.

Karin Sophia Johansson and Georgia Luckhurst lead the pack as Martha and Karen, two schoolteachers whose lives are ruined by accusations of a lesbian affair. The subtlety of this friendship between two women exhausted by the competing demands of rowdy children, a delusional aunt (Molly Williams), and a relentlessly cheerful fiancé (Connor Norris) holds everything else in place—at least until Sophia Kiely takes the stage. Kiely is almost too convincing as Mary Tilford, the manipulate child tyrant who starts the rumor about Martha and Karen. Anyone who has ever dealt with an impossible (would I go too far to say “evil”?) brat will shudder at Kiely’s wheedling, whinging, and chilling shifts of expression.

While these three are locked in opposition, the rest of the cast is working just as hard: standouts include Gabrielle Green as the ill-used Rosalie, Molly Williams as faded actress Mrs. Mortar, and Heather Tiernan and her tartan skirt as the formidable and inexplicably Scottish (no complaints) Agatha. 

Visually, the production is a mixed bag. Kat Reynders’s ‘60s costumes are the standout; the cohesive ensemble of jewel tones and carefully coordinated textures create a powerful sense of the world of this story—a world so detailed and specific it extends even to the beautiful paper-doll publicity illustrations by Sasha Man.

The set, unfortunately, has less of an eye for detail. The cardboard pop-up book is extremely ambitious and, at its best, magical. It is also bulky and prone to malfunction, which detracts from the effect. More importantly, though, it seems to belong on a different stage from the ordinary furniture in the foreground, and fails to feel like an extension of the space occupied by the characters. 

I also have to say that, while this script is excellent, its queer aspects are slightly unsettling to me. Doubtless The Children’s Hour was groundbreaking in 1934, but today I have my doubts about a play in which the only queer character takes her life after being snubbed by her friend, and the people who spread the rumor about the lesbian affair have to apologize, not for being vicious or prejudiced, but merely for being incorrect. Still, there is something to be said for preserving these moments in the history of queer culture and thinking about how they translate into new contexts—and there is even more to be said for a play in St. Andrews with twelve female roles, real period costumes, and creative decisions which are strong, if not always slick.


Orphée and Eurydice: Reviewed

Although I am admittedly not a die-hard opera fanatic, I was intrigued by the opportunity to see OpSoc’s unique take on the classic tale of Orphée and Eurydice, which used an excellent new translation by students from Professor Julia Prest’s “Translating French Opera” module. The plot is fairly straightforward: the grief-stricken Orphée journeys to the underworld to rescue her dead lover, Eurydice. Orphée must lead Eurydice back to the land of living without looking back at her—or she will be lost to her forever. 

Director Amy Addinall gave the opera a modern twist using a contemporary army setting, and by casting Orphée as female (Tabitha Benton-Evans). In the world of theatrical productions, reinvention treads a fine line—get carried away and it overshadows the story, don’t go far enough and creative changes lack purpose. On this occasion though, the adaptations only enhanced the opera and were cleverly incorporated through details such as camouflage army attire, military-style trench coats, and a gunshot to punctuate Eurydice’s death.

This allowed the indisputable main strength of this show to shine: the impressive vocal performances of Benton-Evans as Orphée, Millie Haldane as Eurydice, and Catriona Kadirkamanathan as Cupid. Benton-Evans was barely off-stage for the majority of the production, and she mastered the large repertoire of her role with poise and assurance. The chemistry between her Orphée and Haldane’s Eurydice was magnificent, and the comedic moments when Eurydice was exasperated by Orphée’s refusal to look at her were well executed. Especially impressive were the segments where Benton-Evans and Haldane were singing in harmony with impeccable tuning and clarity of diction, something which is very challenging and should be commended. Both Haldane and Kadirkamanathan dealt with tricky high soprano melodies with ease and captured the essence of their characters in their performances. Singing prowess was not confined to those in the lead roles—the chorus stayed in tune throughout and their vocal projection was admirable, especially given the absence of microphones. The band were also brilliant and there were few, if any, missteps in their playing. It was clear the band and the company had rehearsed together extensively beforehand, as they were beautifully in sync, a feat which can be attributed to musical director Fanny Empacher.

However, the first half did seem to plod along lethargically after the emotive opening number, and I did struggle to remain engaged—though that was probably largely due to the music being appropriately sombre after Eurydice’s death. This could have been offset with more interesting blocking, or some lighting or set changes, although I respect that it is in the character of operatic productions to refrain from extravagant tech or choreography. Given the simplistic blocking, the chorus needed to bring a high level of energy and make full use of facial expressions to convey the emotion behind the lyrics they were singing, and unfortunately this was missing at certain points. Similarly, there was a particularly noticeable disparity between those who fully committed to the portrayal of the menacing figures from the underworld and those who did not, which did detract somewhat from the drama of Orphée’s quest.

Nevertheless, given that this show was put together in the space of three weeks, and probably on a very tight budget, this was a truly exceptional effort from all involved, and the end result showcased the talents of the cast. Will I see another opera again in the near future? Maybe not; but seeing a well put-together production such as this one is always an absolute pleasure.

4/5 Owlies

Copenhagen: Reviewed

All the interval, all I could think was: oh boy. How am I going to talk about this thing?

It’s difficult to know where to start with this magical production of Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen, directed by Benji Osugo and produced by Lauren Liotti. It resists the usual standards and categories for theater. Copenhagen takes the form of a conversation between German physicist Werner Heisenberg, Danish physicist Neils Bohr, and Magrethe, Bohr’s wife. The three meet after the end of their lives to discuss their relationships, their careers, their responsibility (or lack thereof) for the creation of the atomic bomb, and the purpose behind a mysterious visit Heisenberg made to Copenhagen in 1941.

At the heart of this production were three powerhouse performers: Georgie Turner as Heisenberg, Anoushka Kohli as Bohr, and Georgia Luckhurst as Magrethe. Together they navigated the text—a beautiful but challenging combination of storytelling, repetitive dialogue, and science metaphors—with true elegance. Turner, a consummate character actress, was magnetic: electric with idiosyncrasy and charm. Kohli matched this energy with the steadier, quieter, but equally vivid counterpoint of an older man who has suffered oppression and loss. Luckhurst was at her best in the second act, when Magrethe begins to match intellects with the men. She struck the perfect note of smart sharpness to interrupt the play’s repetitions. 

It’s a good thing the performances were strong, because they could not have been more exposed. The actors stood in the middle of a perfect circle with the sparsest of sets: a bare lightbulb, a square of white industrial flooring, and three white chairs. Visually, it was a masterclass in careful selection. Caelan Mitchell-Bennett, Viola Komedová, and Zoë du Bois conceived of a set which did so much with so little. The whitewash had an eerie, afterlife glow, apt for three deceased characters. But it was also a blank canvas which the actors could imagine into anything and anyplace they needed as they told their stories. The paint on the flooring chipped underfoot, creating flakes that drifted in the light—like the snow in Heisenberg’s favorite skiing metaphor or, more disturbingly, like the ash of an obliterated city. The technical and sound design, headed by Natasha Maurer, was just as precise. Piano music and colored, horizontal light gave variety and signaled shifts in place, time, and mood. 

The drawback to this level of precision is that any superfluous element feels glaringly out of place. The mirrors around the edge of the audience, for instance, promised exciting visual effects but served no discernible purpose. The costumes felt like an afterthought, disconnected from the rest of the storytelling. These were the scant flaws I picked out in the occasional moments when Bohr and Heisenberg spiraled into their umpteenth disagreement about who said what and when and where and how and to whom, and I wondered why it mattered, and whether the play might be just a tiny bit too long. 

I had one other question, and it was a question for the director. Throughout the play, the three actors whirled around the circular space, sometimes in choreographed movement sequences, sometimes carrying their chairs. Why so much spinning, I wondered about halfway through—and why that lightbulb in the center? Only on my way out did I realize how beautiful and perfect this was for a play about the structure of the atom. 


REVIEW: Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday

In this week’s literary review, Eliza Quinn examines Lisa Halliday’s critically-acclaimed debut novel Asymmetry. Quinn examines notions of power and domination in the affair between a young woman and a much older man, begging the question: is this ok?

I adored it, contemplated it, felt challenged by it. I obsessively and annoyingly recommended it to all of my friends, at the slightest lull in any conversation. I liked it, and will continue to like it, because it does what any work of art should do: it made me think differently about the world around me and made me see things more clearly.

As the title implies, Asymmetry is about imbalances of power. Divided into three sections, we follow first the story of Alice, a 20-something editor, working in New York. Early on in the novel, she has a chance encounter with Ezra Blazer, a world-famous, Nobel-Prize winning author who is much older than she is. They begin an affair, which lasts for several years.

Halliday describes their affair from the third person, but not necessarily from Alice’s personal perspective. Instead the focus rests intentionally on their dialogue, their conversations with one another. Throughout the book, you never gain insight into Alice’s actual thoughts concerning the affair with Ezra, instead, their words and actions are methodically written down by Halliday, like an empirical study of the relationship by a cool observer. This detached, objective writing style demands of the reader to make their own judgement, to apply their own emotions and experiences onto the skewed relationship they are reading about. Halliday offers no personal spin, no clear bias, compelling the reader to make one for themselves. Most importantly, it highlights the gross imbalance of power between these two people, and asks the reader to make a personal judgement call on the question that obsessively rang through my head like an alarm bell: is this ok?  

Because the power imbalance is there, unavoidably and unsettlingly there. From the beginning of their liaison, Ezra phones Alice when he wants to see her, the words CALLER ID BLOCKED telling the reader he has done so. He can always reach her, but she can never reach him. Everything about their relationship is skewed, with Ezra holding all of the cards.

When they’re together, he tells her what to wear and eat, how to act, and what to read.

What does Alice get out of it? The brilliance of the novel lies in the fact that we simply have to make our own assumptions. Through imparting our own subjective experiences onto the text, we come to know ourselves better and are forced to question our assumptions.

Asymmetry is a sharp and thorough examination of unequal power dynamics, posing questions that stay with you long after you’ve finished the book. If it wasn’t already blatantly obvious, I highly recommend it as a must-read.