A Comedy Of Errors
Glasgow’s Tron Theatre is staging Anthony Neilson’s dark comedy The Lying Kind this summer. Mark Brown talked to lead actors Michael Dylan and Martin McCormick
Did you ever hear the joke about the Irishman and the Scotsman who visited the warring old couple on Christmas Eve to give them some very bad news? If you did, you already know about the Tron Theatre, Glasgow’s forthcoming production of Anthony Neilson’s dark comedy The Lying Kind.
First played at the Royal Court Theatre as the London playhouse’s alternative Christmas show in 2002, the drama tells the story of two hapless cops, Gobbel and Blunt, who have drawn the short straw. It’s getting late on Christmas Eve, and they’ve been assigned to visit the intriguingly named senior citizens Balthasar and Garson (a couple for whom the love has observably long gone) with a terrible report about their daughter.
The problem is, try as they might, the bumbling Bobbies can’t quite impart the information. Their inept attempts at softening the blow only lead them into a series of ever more egregious cock-ups.
Add to this the antics of self-appointed community activist Gronya, a woman with a News Of The World-style obsession with rooting out paedophiles, and you have a very bleak farce indeed. Which, it should be said, is no less than one would expect of Neilson, the acclaimed Scottish playwright whose oeuvre includes such brilliant-but-unsettling dramas as Penetrator, The Censor and Stitching.
The Tron already has Christmas covered; every winter the theatre draws huge audiences for its pastiche pantos, written by the irrepressible Johnny McKnight. This year will be no different, with theatregoers already eagerly anticipating Alice In Weegieland.
Consequently, while many other Scottish theatres go quiet in anticipation of the Edinburgh festivals in August, the Tron, contrarily, is staging Neilson’s Christmas comedy in midsummer.
The cast will be lead by the aforementioned Celtic duo of Irish actor Michael Dylan (who plays Gobbel) and his Scottish counterpart Martin McCormick (Blunt). Dylan will be remembered fondly by Tron audiences for his fine playing of the priest Father Welsh in last year’s production of Martin McDonagh’s The Lonesome West.
McCormick, for his part, has become one of Scotland’s most celebrated stage actors, not least for his role in Dragon, the much-loved Scots-Chinese co-production for young people. He is also an award-winning writer, having received the Best New Play prize at the 2015 Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland for Squash, his excellent contribution to the lunchtime theatre at Glasgow’s Oran Mor.
When I meet the two actors during rehearsals at the Tron they are relishing their double act in director Andy Arnold’s production of The Lying Kind. “They are total archetypes”, McCormick explains. “They’re like Father Ted and Father Dougal.”
“They try their best at their job, but they mess up a lot”, Dylan adds. “The thing I like about it is, if Blunt messes up, Gobbel comes in and saves the day, even if he doesn’t mean to, and vice versa. They’re lovable idiots.”
Blunt is, says McCormick, the “straight man” to Dylan’s more overtly comic character. However, like Father Ted, the play relies on the characters’ absolute obliviousness to their own absurdity.
“To achieve the maximum effect, it’s all got to be done with 100% sincerity”, the Scottish actor continues. “It’s got to be rooted in truth. Otherwise it just becomes panto.”
The play stands in a long and illustrious tradition of comic dramas in which uncomprehending characters disappear down a hole of their own digging. Shakespeare named the entire genre when he titled one of his plays The Comedy Of Errors.
“It could happen to anyone”, Dylan says of Gobbel and Blunt’s series of mishaps. “It starts with a little misunderstanding, then, suddenly, these two are in deep trouble. They don’t want to upset anyone, offend anyone or lose their jobs, but it just spirals down into chaos.”
“You catch yourself laughing and you think, ‘Oh God, I shouldn’t be laughing at that!”, McCormick adds.
“That’s the comedy that I like the most”, says Dylan. “When you’re thinking, ‘This is horrific, but it’s hilarious’, and you can relate to it.
“I know people who are like the people in this play. Old couples who hate each other. Or people like Gronya, who are on a mission to save the community, when they should be looking after themselves.”
Dylan and McCormick have worked together before, when Arnold had to re-cast his production of The Lonesome West for dates in Russia last year. However, they first met in their student days, when Dylan was training at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and McCormick was at the RSAMD (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) in Glasgow.
They bumped into each other during a student drama programme at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon. “They put all the students up in a youth hostel”, McCormick remembers.
“It was like Lord Of The Flies! It was a bunch of drama students all getting pissed and up to no good.”
Some might say these are the perfect origins for actors who are performing together in an Anthony Neilson comedy. The pair are certainly enjoying building the cataclysmically comic relationship between Gobbel and Blunt.
A fact that, they explain, has a great deal to do with director Arnold’s approach to making theatre. “Coming into work at the Tron is just lovely”, says Dylan. “Andy creates a space where you can just play. It’s like coming in and having a laugh.”
The Lying Kind plays the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, July 6-22. For details and tickets, visit: tron.co.uk
This feature was originally published in the Sunday Herald on June 25, 2017
© Mark Brown