FEVER DREAM: SOUTHSIDE
CITIZENS THEATRE, GLASGOW
The Southside of Glasgow is a truly fascinating place. The final destination, over more than a century, for many and varied groups of refugees and migrants, from Jews fleeing Czarist Russia, to people from the post-independence Indian sub-continent, to Roma, Poles and Syrians in more recent times, it is the most ethnically diverse community in Scotland.
The area is celebrated for its Bohemianism, being home to both the acclaimed Tramway arts venue and the Citizens Theatre itself. However, as in any city, the community has its dark underside; the famous Queen’s Park continues to evoke memories of the dreadful rape and murder of Moira Jones, which took place there in 2008.
All of these factors and more jostle and mingle in the aptly entitled Fever Dream: Southside, the new play by leading Scottish playwright Douglas Maxwell. From a young, mentally disturbed, American evangelical missionary (in whose head lives a fervent alter ego and a Glaswegian pterodactyl), to a sleep-deprived young couple with a new baby, Maxwell attempts to evoke a 21st-century urban community in a bleakly comic dream play in which recognisable realities collide with the most patent of absurdities.
In its evocation of an alternate psychic world, Maxwell’s drama is reminiscent of Anthony Neilson’s magnificent The Wonderful World of Dissocia. There is, in its approach to contemporary socio-political events, through multifarious-yet-interconnected characters, more than a touch of Simon Stephens’s memorable Pornography.
However, thrown together with all the dramatic coherence of a failed blancmange, Maxwell’s work lacks the essential structure required of any play, no matter how diverse its influences or feverish its imagination. As a fine cast attempts to fight its way out of a collection of barely sketched caricatures (such as Julia, the ridiculous, self-obsessed “performance artist” and Raj, the cocky Anglo-Asian property manager who dresses like a pimp), one wonders exactly what the piece looked like before the dramaturg, Frances Poet, tried (and failed) to knock it into shape.
Not funny enough often enough, the play swings between sub-standard sitcom and ambitiously surreal, but ultimately failed, soap opera. Indeed, it is as frustratingly erratic as Maxwell himself, the author of the fine Decky Does a Bronco and the disastrous Variety. It is a pity that his latest work proves to be the first turkey of director Dominic Hill’s acclaimed reign at the Citizens.
Until 9 May 2015. Tickets: 0141 429 0022; citz.co.uk
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on April 26, 2015
© Mark Brown