CITIZENS THEATRE, GLASGOW
SEEN AT TRAMWAY, GLASGOW;
Playing Eden Court, Inverness, March 16
The Destroyed Room
SEEN AT TRON THEATRE, GLASGOW;
Playing Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, March 9-12
Reviewed by Mark Brown
David Harrower’s Blackbird is, surely, one of the finest Scottish plays of the last 25 years. Ever since it premiered at the 2005 Edinburgh International Festival, this brave and complex two-hander has captivated and disquieted audiences.
In the play Una (a woman in her late 20s) confronts Ray (in his mid-50s), the man who sexually abused her when she was 12 years old. Its resonating power explains why two major productions have been staged (here at the Citizens and on Broadway) and a film adaptation set for release later in the year.
Gareth Nicholls’s production for the Citz gets to the disconcerting heart of Harrower’s play. Having discovered a photograph of him in a trade magazine, Una has tracked Ray (who is now living under an assumed name) down to the factory where he works.
What follows is a drama of gladiatorial psychology in which moral certainties dissolve and emotions and instincts conflict within, as well as between, the protagonists. That Ray was guilty as charged (and convicted) is never in doubt, but the situation now, some 15 years later, is powerfully unpredictable.
The drama’s linguistic and physical power play is reminiscent of the dramas of Pinter. To make this work you need excellent actors, and Nicholls has them in Camrie Palmer (Una) and Paul Higgins (Ray).
The pair are like magnets that both repel and attract, sometimes at the same time. As they recount their distorted relationship of a decade-and-a-half ago, power and emotions shift troublingly. The only constant is that Palmer and Higgins remain utterly compelling.
The piece enjoys superb design (a naturalistically disgusting factory dining room turned in to an abstract arena of conflict) and a subtle, often premonitory sound score. A memorable rendering of Harrower’s modern classic, one hopes this production is revived following this short run.
From an established play to a fascinating new work. Purposeless Movements is the latest show by Birds of Paradise (BoP), Scotland’s leading theatre company in the promotion of work by deaf and disabled artists.
Written and directed by BoP’s joint artistic director Robert Softley Gale, and focusing on the life experiences of four performers with cerebral palsy (CP), it is humorous, touching and thought-provoking.
At the outset the excellent cast members come forward, two (Laurence Clark and Jim Fish) are in wheelchairs, two (Colin Young and Pete Edwards) walk with what the late Ian Dury called his “wobble”. They declare, “we are all professional actors, we’re not just doing this for kicks.”
From this moment on we are thoroughly engaged in the men’s stories. Young’s experience of being patronised by the UK governments’ Equalities Minister at a meeting where he was representing a major disability charity is enraging. Fish’s intimate reflections on sex and love, including his deep insecurities about the impact of CP upon his body, are deeply moving.
There is also a wonderful humour in the piece. Like Clark’s acclaimed comedy show The Jim Davidson Guide To Equality, it tells the kind of jokes about CP that most non-disabled people would never think about making.
The production is raised above mere storytelling and joke cracking by a series of brilliant artistic and technical interventions. Beautifully designed and lit (let’s hope it looks as fabulous on tour as it did in the extraordinary T1 performance space at Tramway), the show boasts gorgeously emotive live music by Kim Moore and Scott Twynholm.
Tremendously choreographed, with fine use of supertitles, perhaps its greatest innovation is the integration of the remarkable British Sign Language interpreter Amy Cheskin into the performance. A fifth stage performer in her own right, she plays an impressively tender role in a show that breaks enduring taboos with exquisite style.
There is a similar smoothness of visual style in Vanishing Point theatre company’s new show The Destroyed Room. The piece is inspired, we are told, by Jeff Wall’s 1978 photograph The Destroyed Room, which, in turn, refers to Delacroix’s painting The Death Of Sardanapalus. There is always a danger of bathos in such claims, and so it proves here.
Three people are brought together in a room (which is supplied with food and drink, including alcohol) to discuss the perspectives from which human beings see the world in the internet age. They are filmed constantly on two cameras, with the speaker often projected onto a huge screen above the stage.
The conversation, which becomes increasingly fraught the more drunk the protagonists become, begins with major topics, ranging from the refugee crisis to the Paris attacks of last November. These global concerns soon become entangled with personal issues and tensions between the speakers.
The deliberately fragmented structure is reminiscent, not of Wall or Delacroix, but of the Channel Four late night discussion programme After Dark; which went under the satirical title After Closing Time following the notorious episode from 1991 which featured an inebriated Oliver Reed.
Although nicely acted and designed, there is a distinct lack of depth and conviction in the piece. It attempts to explore how the 21st-century westerner faces, or does not face, the global humanitarian and environmental crises, but it has little new to say to the intelligent theatregoer.
It would be unfair to disclose director Matthew Lenton’s final attempt to address one of the most pressing and emotive issues in the world today. Suffice it to say that his show does not achieve the political stature to carry the sudden shift in moral tone.
These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on March 6, 2016
© Mark Brown