Paul Bright’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh
Review by Mark Brown
New Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) director Fergus Linehan made something of a statement when he invited Stewart Laing’s acclaimed company Untitled Projects to revive its 2013 show Paul Bright’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner as part of his inaugural programme. Linehan’s decision has been widely viewed in Scottish arts circles as a timely rebuke to arts funding quango Creative Scotland, which infamously refused the group’s application for stable funding in December of last year; leading to the company being put in mothballs.
Whatever the Festival director’s motives, the staging of the piece at the Queen’s Hall is a smart move. The play, written by Laing’s long-time collaborator Pamela Carter, is a superb piece of meta-theatre which has now, in a very real sense, come home.
If the work’s narrator, actor (and self-confessed professional liar) George Anton, is to be believed, we are witnessing a highly personal illustrated lecture about the forgotten, late Scottish theatre director Paul Bright. Anton was, he says, the director’s muse, playing the twin leads (religious fanatic Robert Wringhim and his shape-shifting doppelgänger Gil-Martin) in Bright’s life’s work, the sprawling, flawed, but magnificent attempt to dramatise the great Scottish novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg.
Backed by video interviews with such luminaries as über-directors Katie Mitchell and Giles Havergal, Anton’s account takes us, among other places, to episode four (of the planned six). A nine-hour epic, staged here in the Queen’s Hall as part of the EIF in 1989, it was annihilated by the critics. In the context of Laing and Carter’s elaborate bluff, this is a tremendous, site-specific joke. Indeed, the humour is enhanced by Anton’s description of the “death slot” (newly abolished by Linehan), in which the EIF insisted that a solitary Scottish drama production (always a world premiere) compete with the best in world theatre.
Not everything about this revival is a success, however. The introductory exhibition, with its convincing details of Bright’s productions, worked extremely well when the show opened at Glasgow’s Tramway two years ago. By contrast, it sits awkwardly on either side of the stage of the Queen’s Hall, its influence diminished considerably.
Until August 22. For more information, visit: eif.co.uk
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on August 20, 2015
© Mark Brown