Give a little


Mark Fisher talks to Mayfest director Robert Robson about keeping Glasgow’s spring festival Scottish. .

Ten years old and there are signs of an interesting I development in the shape of Glasgow’s annual arts jamboree. In recent years. particularly before Robert Robson took over in 1991, Mayfest had threatened to become interchangeable with the increasing number of festivals on the cultural calendar. Take a handful of big names from the international circuit, throw in a few middle-scale touring companies, the odd left-of-centre rock group and a bunch of nearly-famous comedians. and voila!, one festival. It’s a durable formula and | certainly easier said than done. but it‘s one that makes little allowance for those who are supposed to be doing the celebrating: the people of a city themselves.

The change ofemphasis instigated by Robert Robson is starting to manifest itself in this year's three-week programme, which looks less like the duplicate of Edinburgh's Assembly Rooms as it tended to under Bill Burdett-Coutts, and more like an outward-looking celebration of Scottish culture. The shift is subtle and could take several more years before making a clear difference but. in Robson's new policy of making money available to commission shows as well as simply to book

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them. there are real indications that Mayfest is developing a unique character.

‘While we remain a strongly international festival. we’d also like to be one that provides a platform for new and ambitious Scottish work .‘ Robson explains. ‘The only way to achieve that is to invest in ideas, so that we can help create that work and give it the platform it deserves. We‘d hope to develop productions that would stand against the best international work.‘ Money is an

‘We’d hope to develop productions that would stand against the best international work.’

obstacle. as ever. but Robson is making a clear statement of intent by investing in four new shows for this year‘s festival. There‘s a multi-media staging of Hugh MacDairmid‘s A Drunk Man Looks at The Thistle. directed by Robson himself, a performance by young Glasgow company. Clanjamfrie called The World's Edge. a work-in-progress by choreographer Mark Murphy and local dancers, and a retrospective of the work of Steve Shill. Robson says that the choice of these is not so much to do with a leaning towards

performance art, as with a desire to encourage the mixin ofmedia. "They’re cross-art forms.‘ he says. t‘s about supporting Scottish artists. but above all trying to help them work with influences from outside Scotland.’

But despite his commitment to Scottish theatre. Robson refutes the suggestion that his programme‘s international content is weak in comparison to that of previous years. ‘I think it‘s a bit ofa myth,‘ he says. ‘If you count the number of items. it‘s not any less. It might be a little bit less in the theatre programme; we‘ve harnessed our resources and with the Maly Drama Theatre we‘ve made a major investment in one ofthe most important pieces oftheatre of recent years. But in

the theatre section that is offset by the range of

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Scottish work and by a very healthy representation ofwork from within Britain and Ireland. There‘s a lot ofinteresting English. Welsh and Irish work there which hangs together as a body. rather than just being random examples from here and there. You‘ll find greater international content in other sections ofthe programme. the most obvious being the dance.‘

As well as overseeing Britain‘s second-largest arts festival, Robson is also finding time to direct the staging ofA Drunk Man Looks at The Thistle

to mark the centenary of MacDiarmid‘s birth.

Composer William Sweeney has cut the poem to a manageable size and then set it to music

- everything from classical to soul to rap and the . whole thing will be performed using a mixture of

' song, narration and dance. ‘We‘re attempting to

find away of bringing the poem off the page and giving it a fresh life,‘ says Robson. “but it's faithful to the spirit of the text. In some ways we‘re trying to be part of this whole discussion and debate about Scottish identity and maybe some areas of that will become more poignant than before the election. A production of this poem is appropriate to these times.‘

A Drunk Man Looks at The Thistle. Old Athenaeum Theatre, Glasgow, Wed 6—Fri 8 May.

Lass laugh

it is a truism to say that women tare worse than their male counterparts when it comes to comedy, but no less irritating tor all that. The good news is that, while last year’s Edinburgh Fringe boasted only a couple ol comediennes, Maylest ls positively rattling with them. The line-up includes Lynn Fergusson, she oi the ‘sledgehammer’ wit, and deadpan Jo Brand, as well as a night with tour lemale exponents oi stand-up comedy: Jenny Lecoat, Donna McPhall, iiattle Hayridge and Brenda Gilhooly.

Jo Brand puts the dearth oi women at last year’s Fringe down to coincidence - ‘l was on holiday in Home, which was

a lot better’ - but she coniesses that the genre is still male-dominated. And the iauit is not with the male comics, most at whom are encouragineg right-on, but with the audiences. ‘lt’s harder tor women who are starting up, especially in some clubs. A law oi them are l potentially very good, but they get . ground down and they give up. I think i people’s expectations are too high: i they want something very polished and commerciallsed. When the circuits I first started up the audiences were nicer- it didn’t matter that not every act on the bill went down a storm.‘

it’s tempting to think that audiences reject women comics because they see .i them as selling a threatening, iemlnist . line. Ironically, where men have tor i years been peddling male material - ! lootball, girls, smoking behind the

Jo Brand: sardonic wit

bikeshed—audiences are less tolerant oi ‘iemale‘ material, more likely to regard it as politicking. Then there is a lingering suspicion that women just aren’t lunny. ‘There’s something in that,’ says Brand. ‘There’s been such a ; long tradition at men being good comedians and women not. i think that they are lunny, but in a diiterent way.’ Brand, needless to say, can be relied upon tor the usual mix at sardonic wit, tampon jokes and politics. But it will surely be a long time before women i feel coniident enough to start making jokes about baby buggies and tupperware parties. (Miranda France)

More Stand-up, Moir Hall, Glasgow, Tue 5—Wed 6 May. Jo Brand, Moir Hall, Glasgow, Fri

15—Sat16 May.


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