PAUL BRIGHT’S CONFESSIONS OF A JUSTIFIED SINNER
Acting is, thespian George Anton tells us early in this experimental take on James Hogg’s famous novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, merely “lying and getting away with it.” Later, the lone star on director Stewart Laing’s stage will insist that he (Anton) can be “very persuasive.” These comments are – in this dubiously veracious production for the National Theatre of Scotland, Tramway and Laing’s company Untitled Projects – about as close to reliable information as we are offered all evening.
When we enter the main performance space at Tramway we are faced with a fabulously detailed exhibition, seemingly drawn from the archives, about the highly ambitious, yet strangely forgotten, attempt to dramatise Hogg’s Confessions which was made in the 1980s by a then angry, young theatre maker named Paul Bright. Bright, Anton tells us, disappeared in 1989, before completing his six part adaptation, only to die in a Brussels hospital in 2010.
Anton – who was, he tells us, Bright’s only choice for the twin, and central, roles of the fanatical Calvinist Robert Wringhim and his demonic doppelganger Gil-Martin – traces the theatrical “happenings” and out-and-out follies (including the staging of a section of Hogg’s book on the peak of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh) of Bright’s attempted adaptation. As he does so, the actor – who is assisted by a young computer operative who illustrates his account with film clips (both apparent archive footage and recent interviews) – also explores his personal journey through the Eighties with Bright.
At face value, the piece is part documentary (both of Bright and his Confessions), part autobiography (of Anton) and part acting masterclass (not least in the moments when Anton remembers a great role from the past). However, those who know a thing or two about Scottish theatre (of the Eighties or the present day), or are of a suspicious nature, might conclude that the work is, in fact, an admirably elaborate hoax and, therefore, among other things, a contemplation on the meaning of documentary “truth” and the value of increasingly modish documentary theatre.
Whatever one decides it is, there is no denying that these assiduously non-confessional Confessions provide an often witty, occasionally hilarious, and always excellently acted (if slightly self-satisfied) evening’s theatre.
At Tramway until June 29. For further information, visit: http://www.nationaltheatrescotland.com
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on June 19, 2013
© Mark Brown