Extra Ordinary – Netflix

Written & Directed by: Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman

If there’s something strange in your neighbourhood, the last person you’d call is the driving instructor, right? Well, in quaint, middle-of-nowhere Ireland, this is precisely who to reach out to for all your ectoplasmic queries. Where other than rural Ireland could you stumble upon satanic rituals, pernickety ghouls, and humour in death? The perfect setting for Extra Ordinary, unassuming horror-comedy surrounding grief, regrets and farce.

Cult status, it’s a prize some deem worthy for a piece of cinema. One can’t shake the feeling, that this is what is instore for Extra Ordinary, at least in a minor sense. This unashamedly self-aware horror meets romantic-comedy knows precisely the story it wants to tell, and is only tumbling slightly in execution. Rose is a driving instructor in (very) rural Ireland, with one unique talent – Rose can communicate with the dead. A gift she shuns out of regret in having a part to play in her father’s death. That is, of course, until Martin Martin requests an exorcism.

There’s a surprising finesse in portraying banal – especially in a film which draws humour in the deceased. Martin Martin is now a widower with a teenage daughter to raise, his deceased wife Bonnie regularly haunting, possessing and generally being a pain in the arse, even in death. Barry Ward grounds the performance, which heightens the otherworldly aspects surrounding the character, but equally as capable in delivering hilarious physical comedy.

In the absolute reverse, Ahern and Loughman’s decision to cram a part of the narrative with, what they perceive, as twists and excess, costs the film an otherwise near-perfect package. At first, the doily coated Exorcist is a quaint, zany comedy, bolstering an oddly sweet gallery of characters, who plunge headfirst in foiling the antics of Will Forte as Satanist Christian Winter. Less a Faustian terror, more bumbling sitcom neighbour, the direction here fumbles as the comedy which put the fun in funeral, now seems intent on shoehorning tension, the over-the-top drama becoming more transparent than any supernatural creature.

Their saving grace, Maeve Higgins as Rose, carries such sincerity it’s easy to surrender to the lunacy of the script. The delivery plays into Extra Ordinary’s style, with its lashings of classic horror references, screwball moments and vintage VHS requiring a team able to ground the film, yet maintain momentum and world-building. No one excels at this better than Higgins, who captures an authentic sense of humour, concealing the loneliness she feels. This tenderness from Higgins demonstrates Ahern and Loughman’s written capability, marrying ludicrous comedy with fragility. Rose often identifies with the spectres she communicates with, unseen, unloved and alone, whilst Martin Martin’s throw-away line about “speaking with anyone, even a driving instructor, opens the doors to a frankness about death.

Visually, the set dressings and props reinforce an aesthetic, but cinematography limits itself to practicality. No reason to stretch for an art-house feel, there’s a distinct lack of manipulation or attempt at framing Extra Ordinary outside of medium or close-up shots. Instead, focus shifts to effects; notably the hazy, VHS 4:3 aspect segments which break-up the acts of the film, complete with title cards and choppy audio. They’re excellent visual gags, which hark back to those cassettes all shelves had, but with no origins materialising from nowhere.

Ahern and Loughman’s Extra Ordinary conjures those wicked nostalgia demons of the mid-eighties to the early nineties. There’s more than a fleeting similarity to the spirit of Edgar Wright or Stephen Volk, but Ahren and Loughman’s film is certainly of their conception, a determined pastiche with as much life as it has love for both horror and comedy. 

Review originally published for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/extra-ordinary/

Extra Ordinary is availale for streaming now on Netflix

Amadeus & The Bard – National Museum of Scotland

Director & Creator – Mary McCluskey

Musical Director – Karen MacIver

Based on the works of Robert Burns and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Two champions of their time, etching a significant mark on history few can claim, Robert Burns and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lived hundreds of miles apart, but an intense connection in their works ripple throughout culture. Paying homage to the pair, Scottish Opera shares a love of storytelling with these masters, bonding the pair’s verse, composition and passion with their creators and performers.

Where finer to set such a re-telling of these men’s lives than somewhere they both had a great deal of adoration for? The pub. Drinking aside, the infamous Poosie Nansie, this den of revelry, a place of familiarity to fans of Tam O’ Shanter is an excellent setting to present the works of both Wolfie and Rabbie. Taking in a few swallies, this band of merry misfits comprise a selection of Scottish Opera’s youth company, inviting you to jig, sing and join them on this journey. 

Full of vim and vigour, this zestful cast bring the likes of Don Giovanni, Jean Armour and of course, a spirit of two, to fruition with a notable Scots flair. Cementing the production with a stamp of Scottish Opera’s standards, baritone Arthur Bruce and Stephanie Stanway’s soprano role lend immense vocal prowess. Full of character, in control of their tone and range – the projection, even for a small venue, is admirable.

It isn’t as easy as one would imagine, aligning the works of these two artists. Both have notable works, singularly they spark cultural revolutions – so how can blending them maintain their original force? Luckily, thematically the pair share a great deal: in particular matters of the heart, of women and the supernatural. Never would one suspect that Rabbie’s ‘A Man’s a Man For a’ That’ work so sublimely with Mozart’s Queen of the Night? An aria which would define a genre works as a stellar foundation– it’s a pleasant thought what Karen MacIver’s musical direction could turn towards next.

The storytelling elements lacing around a freshly packed Tam O’ Shanter, its recitation to the tones of Mozart, lift the tone of the piece tremendously. Andy Clark’s storyteller may not carry the vocals of some performers, but he is paramount in the production’s success as the purveyor of tales. With an invitation to extend our imagination, Clark fuels a passionate fire for both the Bard and the composer, urging us to go into the word with a ballad, with a tune and a thirst for more.

Sitting there, accordion on her lap, fingers on the ivories and mind racing with direction – MacIver is the heart, beating beneath the chest of Amadeus and The Bard. Alongside exceptional violinist Shannon Stevenson, they are the lifeblood of the show. Together with Mary McCluskey’s vision, the pair breathe life into the memories of Robert Burns and Amadeus Mozart. McCluskey’s conception is profoundly evocative of Scottish humour, showcasing of the future of Scottish Opera in a manner which delights the people – just what Rabbie and Wolfie would have wanted.

Photo credit – Sally Jubb

Tickets available for Paisley Friday 4th October & Scottish Opera Production Studios 11th – 12th October: https://www.scottishopera.org.uk/shows/amadeus-the-bard/

Suffering from Scottishness – Assembly Roxy

Written by Kevin P Gilday

Runs at Assembly Roxy until August 26th (Not 13th or 20th), 17.10pm

Irn Bru, Grand Theft Auto, Nessie, Haggis, the Telephone, Lewis Capaldi, Pride, Sense of Humour and the highest drug death rate in Western Europe Annie Lennox. With all of these things, why the hell wouldn’t you want to be Scottish?

Ever thought to yourself; “I know what would fix this country”, well, now you have the chance to prove yourself in envisioning a brand-new Scottish Citizenship Test. It’s an honour, you know. To be lucky enough to have a hand in fashioning the history of this magnificent country’s borders.  

Suited and booted, Kevin P. Gilday is here on behalf of a government body to gauge our responses to a vital question: Just what does it mean to be Scottish? Suffering from Scottishness is a part of HighTide’s Disruption, which sees six contemporary pieces presented in partnership with Assembly. In a turn of Orwellian ingenuity, Suffering from Scottishness is both social experiment and theatrical plaything.

If you’ve never seen Gilday before, you’ll quickly realise why he is an award-winning writer and spoken word artist. In particular, his control of poetry is a selling feature of the production above its unique concept. A well placed spoken word can turn a sea of people in a way a written one can only dream.

Nationalism. It’s a bit of dirty word these days. Wasn’t always, still has redeeming qualities, but quite often it now goes hand in hand with a sense of blindness. Blindness to see that Scotland has issues, so does the rest of the world, but we’re ignoring several life-threatening ones on our doorstep.

Audience interaction. The make or break of a production. Luckily, Gilday knows precisely where to gauge the level. Instead of directly involving the audience, he looks for their assistance, still seating, it draws us all in closer.

Everyone is now on even footing, we’re engaging together, not watching separately. If anything, there isn’t enough involvement – one suspects more is the plan, after testing waters.

Light-hearted, uplifting and a bit of fun, Suffering from Scottishness also has a ripple of commentary. It’s a mirror, which at first capitalises on Scotland’s idiosyncratic features – only for the glass to shatter, revealing the motive underneath. It’s a compelling play, with a profound poet notion, not only to its words but its concept.

Tickets available from: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/suffering-from-scottishness