Author Archives: yodamo
A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Oct 29th – Nov 3rd
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
The house announcer waited for the crowd to hush before telling us that the Play, Pie and Pint at the Oran Mor, Glasgow, would soon be celebrating its 500th play. There was an air of excitement in the room, a plush, adaptable space, as, fed and watered, everyone readied themselves for the show, “Biscuit” to begin. The small stage space at the back was lit up and the action started with a well-dressed man and woman in conversation, and a third, male, figure lying on the floor. The three were in a panic room, with the assumption that something had gone very wrong in the world outside.
The dialogue soon had the audience roaring with laughter. The unconscious man comes to and turns out to be a Glaswegian, a cleaner employed by the Prime Minister, providing a comic contrast to the well spoken couple who are indeed the British Prime Minister and his wife. The conversation centres around the state of Britain today, swirling around in a 3-way dialogue. The Glaswegian’s perspective is that he didn’t vote, they make fun of him for it, he appeals to the audience and they bond with him, feeling that we all know what’s going on in our world today.
The characters discover – via a stray phone signal- that there has been a massive chemical attack in the outside world; terrifying news for the three stuck in the panic room. The PM starts to deteriorate while the other two find ways to stay calm, as if they know that things would somehow work out. The PM verbally attacks the Glaswegian cleaner in a sort of tantrum as he demands “could you negotiate an international trade deal?” But for each thing he asks, the Glaswegian responds in kind until the frustrated PM is reduced to saying “you have an answer for everything.” As he tries to cut the conversation dead.
As the play progresses, the clothing worn by the characters starts to take on extra significance as we notice the suit worn by the well-to-do PM start to contrast more and more with the red t-shirt and red training shoes worn by the cleaner. The PM remarks that quality should outweigh fashion sense but the cleaner retorts that he simply “…likes his trainers.” The dialogue conveys to us a sense of growing tension with the PM showing his true colours in his fear of dying, heightened when the Glaswegian announces that he is in fact a terrorist.
The shocking turn-around leaves the PM cowering behind his wife, on his knees begging for his life. The wife betrays him, choosing the stronger character and we see the Glaswegian take command of the situation. The arguments and commotion become ever more intense, typified by the exchange where the Glaswegian PMs suit “…cost more than a car.”, and the PM shows his true colours when he declares that it’s not about the cost of his suit, but about successfully “managing the rabble”.
Then with no warning, the door suddenly opens and the three escape together with a feeling that no one was any the wiser. And neither are we. If you have an hour to spare at lunchtime, come along to Oran Mor for a Play, a Pie and a Pint. You never know what you’re going to get, but it will certainly give you food for thought, as well as, well, food!
About ten days ago or so, I was in Rome. Twenty years ago I had visited the city for the first time &, being a busker, I was both amazed & delighted to find myself the benficiary of the hospitality of the Forte Prenestino. This old Italian military base was taken over by the avant-garde youth of Rome three decades ago, & has grown from strenth to strength. I always love to go back, feed myself on the cheap but tasty vegan fare & see what arts are on offer. On the occasion of my most recent visit – with my brother-in-law & occasional Mumbler in tow – I had the good fortune to witness an unusual, yet addictive piece of European theatre.
Its name is Orange Double, the duo of which are two flamboyant female actresses – AudeRrose and Nikky – as moody as the Papin sisters of Mans, who skittle about stage to the eerie accompaniment of strange & surreal sounds bellowing & willowing from gonzo instruments. Some they produce themselves, but the majority come from the arcane musicianship of the gentleman that completes the Teatro Forte! troupe. Other important ingredients of Orange Double include the kaleidoscopic, petri-dish visualities either projected from the front of the stage, or onto a sheet from behind; & the suitcase full of contraptions which are regularly shaken into the action.
During this swirl of shapes, sounds, shades, colours & monolithic movement, I found it all rather David Lynch really – a wonder without words that has you completely hooked from the off like a fascinated toddler, tho’ it is very much a case of choose your own narrative. For a good, good while we are just floating in the cosmic bubble of Orange Double‘s dreamscape, but then somehow they manage to up the tempo, change costumes, slide onto a chaise lounge & provide a suitable ending. After tripping out for a good half an hour down the K-Hole that is Double Trouble, I wasn’t expecting such a lift at all – but it was great, & a perfect way to conclude this whirlwind ride where sound & movement are synergised without any seeming effort, creating audiovisual theatre at its very, very best.
A unique & one-off evening of theater & music is heading to Edinburgh. The Mumble caught a wee blether with one of its creators, Dr. Hannah-Rose Murray…
Hello Hannah-Rose, so where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
Hannah-Rose: It’s great to be able to talk with you! I’m Dr. Hannah-Rose Murray, a historian based at the University of Nottingham. My research covers transatlantic slavery, abolition, and the Black Atlantic.
What is your doctorate in?
Hannah-Rose: American and Canadian Studies, although I focused on African American transatlantic journeys to Britain during the nineteenth century. Hundreds of formerly enslaved African Americans travelled to the British Isles to lecture against U.S. slavery, educate the public about its horrors, write slave narratives, raise money to free enslaved family members, or settle permanently in Britain and Ireland. Their lectures reached nearly every corner of the British Isles – I’ve mapped some of their locations, and some even reached the rural counties of Cornwall and Wales, and even the Scottish Highlands! You can view the maps at my website, http://www.frederickdouglassinbritain.com but the extraordinary thing is that these lectures only represent a fraction of the total number. Throughout the c19th, millions of British people went to hear African Americans speak.
You are bringing a play to Edinburgh next month, can you tell us about it?
Hannah-Rose: Myself and my colleague Dr. Arun Sood (University of Plymouth) have organised a performance celebrating Frederick Douglass’ activism in Scotland. Born enslaved (1818-1895), Douglass was the most renowned African American during the nineteenth century, campaigning for abolition, female suffrage, social justice and equality on both sides of the Atlantic. He visited Britain three times, and his first trip in 1845-1847 led to dramatic changes in his self-fashioning and forever altered his future career. His lectures in Scotland were particularly popular after he challenged the Free Church of Scotland’s decision to accept slaveholder’s money for the establishment of their new church.
The performance focuses on a momentous speech Douglass and fellow abolitionist George Thompson gave in Edinburgh in 1846. Our script uses part of an Edinburgh speech verbatim, testimony that will not have been spoken aloud for over 170 years, and therefore offers a unique and exciting opportunity to highlight Douglass’ legacy in Scotland. At the height of his fame, Douglass inspired the creation of songs and poetry, and encouraged the local community to cry ‘Send Back the Money’ in the streets. Our play revives a central part of Edinburgh’s history, focusing on Douglass’ fiery rhetoric and his impact on the Scottish people: a ballad will by sung at the play’s end to highlight his enduring legacy from 1846 to 2018, and Professor Celeste-Marie Bernier (University of Edinburgh) will close the evening by discussing Douglass’ journey in further detail. The play will be held at the Jam House on Queen Street, the exact location where Douglass spoke in 1846.
The play also ties into the wonderful project that Professor Bernier has organised, ‘Our Bondage and Our Freedom’, There is an exhibition about Douglass and his family at the National Library of Scotland until February 2019, so please do visit that as well.
Has this grown from your research?
Hannah-Rose: I have organised performances like this before. I worked with the British Library in 2016 and organised a black history walking tour around London; at the end of the walk, I hired two actors to re-create an antislavery meeting. This was incredibly successful, and the feedback from it was so positive I created another performance the following year in Nottingham, this time focusing on formerly enslaved African American Josiah Henson and his interracial friendship with white abolitionist Samuel Morley. This play was about 45 minutes long, and was performed at BACKLIT Art Gallery in Nottingham city centre, in a beautiful c19th warehouse building once owned by Morley. Both men reflected on their activism, Henson in particular recounting some of the key moments in his life (including his visits to Britain). Because of Professor Bernier’s incredible project with Douglass, and the exhibition at the National Library of Scotland, it seemed fitting to bring a play about Douglass to Edinburgh and raise awareness of Douglass’ extraordinary impact on the Scottish landscape. 2018 marks the bicentenary of Douglass’ birth, marking a pertinent time to reconsider the legacy of his Scottish speeches and to raise awareness of an American icon in Britain.
What has compelled you to tell the story of such an American legend theatrically to a Scottish audience?
Hannah-Rose: I think Douglass’ incredible oratory really brings the antislavery movement, and his effect on Scotland, to life. We wanted to try and recreate what it would have felt like to be in an abolitionist meeting. Antislavery meetings were theatrical anyway, with white and black abolitionists on a platform speaking to hundreds and often thousands of people. Occasionally, they were shouted down or interrupted: we include a real-life scene in the play, where Douglass was interrupted by someone in the audience. A man shouted out, “what is the price of a slave?” Douglass responded as quick as lightening, with “the price of a slave in Louisiana is regulated by the price of cotton in Manchester.” These fantastic exchanges happened quite frequently, and Victorian newspapers give us brilliant accounts of meetings: in one coverage, I read that people were so desperate to hear Douglass speak in a local church that they crammed the seats and aisles to breaking point, hundreds were turned away from lack of space, and a small crowd gathered outside underneath an open window to hear him. You can’t get more dramatic than that!
How do you think it will resonate with them?
Hannah-Rose: I think it’s always fascinating to learn about local history. The fact that Douglass, the most famous African American of the nineteenth century, not only visited Edinburgh but gave numerous speeches there and its environs is fascinating! Local people came to support Douglass, the antislavery cause, as well as challenging the Free Church for accepting slaveholder’s money. I think the ‘Send Back the Money’ campaign is a really brilliant story, and presents an interesting moral question: should the Church have sent back the money? Why didn’t they in the end? Douglass’ electrifying oratory also proves he was a virtuoso of the antislavery movement. As a formerly enslaved person himself, he could paint the vivid horrors of slavery like no other. Just to give you an example, Douglass said in 1846, “under the drippings of the American sanctuary slavery has its existence. Whips, chains, gags, blood-hounds, thumb-screws, and all the bloody paraphernalia of slavery lie right under the drippings of the sanctuary, and instead of being corroded and rusted by its influence, they are kept in a state of preservation. Ministers of religion defend slavery from the Bible – ministers of religion own any number of slaves – bishops trade in human flesh – churches may be said to be literally built up in human skulls, and their very walls cemented with human blood – women are sold at the public block to support a minister, to support a church – human beings sold to buy sacramental services, and all, of course, with the sanction of the religion of the land.” It’s incredibly powerful.
I have read recently that the great emancipator, Abe Lincoln, was not as anti-slavery as is celebrated – what are your own thoughts on the matter?
Hannah-Rose: Lincoln gets a lot of press because of the Emancipation Proclamation, which is still regarded as a key turning point during the American Civil War. Lincoln defined himself as an antislavery man, but crucially, he was not above compromise during the Civil War. He wrote in 1862: “my paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.” As ever, I’ll defer to what Frederick Douglass thought of Lincoln. The two men had a friendship of sorts, as Lincoln valued Douglass’ opinion about arming African Americans during the war. Understandably, Douglass was incensed that black soldiers did not receive the same wages and rations as their fellow white soldiers, and criticised Lincoln for this, declaring he would recruit no more black soldiers for the Union until this had been corrected. Lincoln could afford to compromise about this issue and about slavery; Douglass as a formerly enslaved person, could not. While Douglass looked upon his friendship with Lincoln with great fondness for the rest of his life, he also accepted Lincoln’s faults. In 1876, Douglass was asked to speak at a memorial dedication to Lincoln, and in his speech, recognised that Lincoln was neither perfect nor an abolitionist hero: “it must be admitted, truth compels me to admit, even here in the presence of the monument we have erected to his memory, Abraham Lincoln was not, in the fullest sense of the word, either our man or our model. In his interests, in his associations, in his habits of thought, and in his prejudices, he was a white man. He was pre-eminently the white man’s President, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men. He was ready and willing at any time during the first years of his administration to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the rights of humanity in the colored people to promote the welfare of the white people of this country.”
How did you get involved with Arun Sood?
Hannah-Rose: A friend introduced us via email, and we had some wonderful conversations about Frederick Douglass – both of us have written about Douglass’ experience in Britain. I mentioned the previous work I have done in terms of performances, and we both thought it would be a wonderful idea to create a play together.
What do you hope an audience member will take away from watching the play?
Hannah-Rose: Hopefully many things! The play is designed to raise awareness of Frederick Douglass, and his extraordinary impact on Edinburgh and other neighbouring towns. The Scottish people really embraced him and his mission. Our play resurrects Douglass’ speeches from the 1840s, and audiences will be blown away by his powerful oratory, his ability to hammer home the nature of white supremacy and the violence of slavery, and his skill at exposing the hypocrisy of an American nation (and a ‘Free’ Scottish church) who would accept money from Southern slaveholders. I also hope that audiences will come away thinking about the legacy of slavery on transatlantic society, that we are still living with its consequences, and Douglass as a figure is now more important than ever.
What will you be doing with the project following your performance in Edinburgh?
Hannah-Rose: Hopefully we will be able to get some follow-on funding, and take the play on tour. Douglass spoke in numerous locations including Nottingham, Bristol, Sheffield, Newcastle, Birmingham, London, Exeter, Leeds…it would be great to choose one of these locations, and adapt the script slightly to include extracts of Douglass’ speech from that location. I’ve spent years finding and transcribing Douglass’ speeches from the Victorian press, so we have a lot of material to work with. It just depends on funding!
The Jam House, Edinburgh
November 9th (19.30)
Dundee Rep Ensemble presents
TUE 16 OCT – SAT 3 NOV
A bungled kidnapping leads by way of a crisis of belief to a violent climax. Curtains up on a warehouse loading depot late at night and an odd couple are debating the pros and cons of French existentialism, Jean Genet and criminality as a career choice. With some of the bluest but funniest dialogue that could be straight out of an Irvine Welsh, Gregory Burke’s one act play at the Dundee Rep delivers a black comedy that just gets darker and deeper as it gets funnier.
Tom, the callow young security guard, played by Ross Baxter, is fresh from university and certain that he’s bound for a career in finance (he’s applied for five jobs so he’s sure to get one of them). He thinks he’s facilitating a little bit of industrial theft organised by his ne’er-do-well companion – some computer chips going out the back door sans paperwork. Baxter’s innocent stooge is nicely played and endearing, with some first class comic flourishes. You get the feeling that, as Eddie says, he’ll be doing the same job in twenty years time.
His companion Eddie, however, is up to something far more unsavoury. Slowly it becomes clear that Eddie really is a bit of a bad lad. Have a strong stomach as the laughs lead to a triumphantly bloody climax. Set in post-industrial Silicon Glen of the nineties, an industry that grew in the wastelands left behind by the dismantling of mining and heavy industry in the central belt of Scotland, Burke’s superb play takes on big issues about belief, masculinity and what’s left to guide us when ideologies fail.
When Eddie’s friend Gary, played by Michael Moreland, appears and the true reason for the evening’s preparations unfolds, the real comic horror begins. Gary, the anarchist-come-socialist-come-revolutionary wants to make a show-killing of a Japanese tech boss, to spark an uprising of the electroproles in silicon Glen. If he provides the body, Eddie will provide the violence. However, he bungles the kidnapping, and instead of an unconscious Japanese salary man they might have to kill what looks like an American, or a Belgian, or perhaps he’s Flemish. It’s hard to tell the nationality of a blackjacked stiff. Never mind, a killing is a killing.
Of course, the problem with violence is that it’s a difficult beast to control. Once you let the dog off the leash it has a nasty habit of biting back. Ewan Duncan is masterful as Eddie, inhabiting violence in every line of speech and gesture, sneering at his companions and the values they stand by. At one point he jumps onto the loading bay, shadow sparring with his weapon of choice – a flick knife. He’s silhouetted against the roller doors by the stage lights, and his shadow is that of a rebel without a cause, a latter-day James Dean. Duncan’s viciously comic dog in the manger is a delight if you love a bit of uber-violence, with a Scots twang.
There is a great deal of food for thought inside this fast-paced, funny and thrilling offering from Dundee Rep. Don’t miss this one.
15th October 2018
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
I was shocked to learn through the discussion hosted after this excellent play that, according to the Global Slavery Index, there were over 136,000 people living in modern slavery in the UK in 2016. That’s nearly the whole population of Dundee. But where are they all? This is the first issue anti-slavery campaigners have to fight – it’s a hidden crime. The trafficking of people happens behind closed doors, in windowless factories or in the back of lorries and vans. Victims sometimes literally never see the light of day. Hence the absolute necessity of a play like “My Mind is Free.” Writer Sam Hall’s one-act piece of physical theatre gives a voice to the many silent victims of this truly evil practice.
Four characters struggle for warmth in the back of a van headed they know not where. There’s Beatriz from the favelas of Brazil, mother of two children, lured over to London by the prospect of ‘cleaning work.’ Her passport taken by the agency and her cellphone stolen from her by her new employer, she has no way to contact her family and no way out of exploitation as her health rapidly deteriorates to the point where she is of no further use to her ‘employer’. Fifteen-year old Giang, from Vietnam, has been trafficked across Asia and Europe to work in a cannabis farm, all the while fearful that his family back home will be in danger if he tries to escape. Violeta has been sold into prostitution by a manipulative boyfriend and passed on to a brothel in the UK populated by other migrants, all drugged and forced into sex working. A former soldier with PTSD, Colin drifts into alcoholism and loses family, home and job. While sleeping rough he is lured with drink and seeming friendliness from a gang-master into punishing manual work and soon becomes completely dependent.
Arcing over all these narratives is the sense of helplessness that prevents the exploited from seeking help. The Rah Rah Company players inhabit the desolation of each character with real pathos. The cast do a magnificent job of bringing to the light these representatives of the faceless thousands of victims of modern slavery. And as if the misery of their situation wasn’t enough, the van they are piled into is headed for a truly horrifying final destination. It’s fair to say that the play is relentlessly harrowing – more harrowing still with the knowledge that the characters’ situations are based on real-life stories. Be prepared to leave the evening outraged at man’s inhumanity to man.
Rah Rah Theatre Company are on tour with ‘My mind is Free’ at venues around Scotland. Each performance is being accompanied by a speaker on the issue of human trafficking in the UK. For more details see https://www.mymindisfree.com. I would urge anyone with the slightest interest in this contemporary disease of a so-called civilised society to see this play, then talk about it with your friends, your workmates, with anyone you can.
A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
Billy is the warehouse manager of a stationery supply company who has obviously missed the in-service day when it was explained that potentially difficult dilemmas, should be pushed up or down the chain of command but never tackled personally. Janet the head of HR knows exactly what to do when Billy phones and tries to pass a human resources problem her way. She emails him the company’s staff policy document and invites him to interpret it with a view to resolving what she sees as, his problem. Janet, we feel, has never, ever missed an in-service day.
Billy has a second in command, gobby Lydia, who knows exactly what Billy should do about a controversial piece of information that’s been received, regarding a worker in the loading department; Billy should listen to, and follow her intemperate advice to the letter. Fortunately there’s Mary, a more moderate voice in the office, dispensing politically correct good sense. Exposed to these clashing opinions, the jokey, congenial manager has to choose a course of action that won’t reflect badly on the company and himself. A wrong decision, an ill-timed YouTube link or an inopportune word to the press, any of these could spell disaster. The important thing is not to panic…
Steven McNicoll’s Billy is the kind of big-hearted, stalwart employee found in every company. He does his job conscientiously, without any machinations, enjoys a laugh with his fellow workers but is unprepared for the big moral issue that has just dropped onto his unwelcoming, managerial lap. We like him. He enjoys being popular but this diminishes his authority when he attempts keep a certain member of his staff in line.
Nicola Roy’s Lydia is all presumptive, potty-mouthed opinion. Her arms, when not gripped across her chest nursing her next irascible barb, are thrust forward stabbing an opinionated finger. When making a point (which she frequently does) her ponytailed head stretches the tendons on her neck as if she were a ski jumper leaning into a leap. She is not a woman riven by uncertainty.
Helen MacKay’s Mary brings a more educated, reasoned view to the proceedings. She is prepared to think things through and is open to the possibility of doubt. Her informed opinion (she Googles) tries to moderate the strident excesses of her hot headed colleague. David Gerow has written a comedy drama (farce-like at times) that tackles disparate reactions to an unseen co-worker accused of a controversial crime. It is a sure-footed piece of writing that finds its all too believable humour in each employee’s efforts to do what they consider is the right thing, for the right reasons.
Worth stepping into this office.
David G Moffat
A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Sept 8th – Sept 13th
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
World War One saw the invention of unprecedented ways to kill and mutilate troops in unimaginable numbers. Many of those seriously injured survived through modern medical treatment but new battles lay ahead as they struggled to find employment and acceptance back home. Morag Fullarton’s drama tells the story of one such man, blinded and disfigured in France.
We are introduced to the primitive glories of the Picture Palace in Dunoon where a Charlie Chaplin silent film is being enhanced by a heavily pregnant, in-house piano player’s musical improvisations. There’s a watery break in proceedings which leaves the cinema in need of a new accompanist but not right away because the projector has broken too. This is of little concern to wee Willy, a boy barred from the delights of the Picture Palace for sneaking in without paying. He’s playing soldiers, dispatching the enemy while disparaging Kaiser Bill in song, when he comes across Bob, a discharged soldier, blinded and wearing a tin mask to hide the damage done to his face. The sound of an explosion takes us back in time to France where an uninjured Bob and his Aussie pal Billy deal with the realities of trench life. Then we are back in Dunoon. Then we are back in France. Then we are back in Dunoon. Then we are back in France. Then finally back in Dunoon (that’s a lot of leaping back and forth for a lunch time) where thankfully the play becomes much less frenetic and delivers a slower paced, more satisfying musical conclusion.
Helen McAlpine should be mentioned in dispatches, not least for the number of characters she plays-
Elspeth an expectant pianist.
Jessie a formidable manageress of the Picture Palace.
Marge a field hospital Nurse.
Camille a young French girl.
Betty a young girl from Dunoon.
Charlie Chaplin (as portrayed by Betty).
Of the above, Jessie is the strongest character. A redoubtable woman not overtly sympathetic to Bob’s plight but prepared to give him a chance to show what he can do.
Matthew Tomlinson’s Bob has a quiet dignity. The mask he wears to cover his ravaged face has a disturbing neutral quality, robbing him of all visible emotions. His passion was, and salvation may be, music.
Matthew Campbell’s Willy McCallum is an impish boy whose starry-eyed visions of war come up against its cold reality. He has the irrepressible optimism of youth, which he realises can be put to good use by helping someone else achieve their goal. Campbell also plays Bob’s Australian pal in France.
Morag Fullarton, a veteran of 5 PPP productions, including the excellent ‘Casablanca, the Gin Joint Cut’ has a rather good story to tell about a man returning from war, damaged on the inside and out trying to find his way forward. The chase and slapstick Charlie Chaplin action on the picture house screen, contrasts vividly with the stills of soldiers at the front and perhaps proceedings should have remained in Dunoon, as the scene switches to France do little to advance the main narrative. On target at the beginning and end but misfires in the middle.
David G Moffat
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
Autumn is twinkling, the foliage is ripping itself from the branches in pastel scenes of gore, & theaters across the island are plunging script-first into their seasons with optimism & relish. In Glasgow, the lodestar of the Tron’s offerings is Enda Walsh’s recent addition to the corpus – Ballyturk. A weird play, we are dropp’d down a rabbit hole to a kafkaesque Bottom, that is to say of the Rik Mayall/Ade Edmondson kind.
So to the experience that is the mind-expanding malarky of Ballyturk. The singular setting is a hovelling bedsit, as dreary & featureless as the names of the two male actors; One, play’d by Simon Donaldson, & Two by Grant O’Rourke. These two foppish, fun-adoring fools possess a wonderful & professional chemistry, beaming out their disciplin’d soliloquies with fish-hook delivery, while waltzing thro’ quite irreverent dialogue such as;
Do bunnies have legs by the way?
We decided on five
Five – is that enough?
Lets hope so, eh!
Walsh’s ever-bubbling wordpool resembles bramble wine fermenting after using too much yeast. We were given respites, however, with some funny physical theatre around a gimmicky set, a retro 80s soundtrack, & trust me you just cant script some of those disco moves – but, of course, you can get Darren Brownlie in on choreography! From chomping rice crispies to the beat, to chucking darts at the other denizens of the Ballyturk universe, there was always something going on, completing the pincer attack on our voyeuristic senses. ‘It should bypass the intellect and go straight to the bones,’ Walsh told the Mumble.
You can tell Galway’s golden boy had fun writing this. From Walsh’s manic imagination, striding like a behemoth to battle, comes a bizarro spiral of cerebral scene-making, a psychedelic mantra like Virginia Woolf on laudanum, like taking peyote in a sweat lodge. Each part of the process reminded me of those plastic wands, which you dip in a solution & blow shimmering bubbles into the air, which then <POP>. In this instance, Walsh was blowing rainbow bubbles of sheer humanity, which also abruptly halted with a pop before moving onto the next piece of what appears at first as enigmatic nonsense but is in fact a penetrating basilisk gaze into the core of the human condition. After one particular <POP>., there’s a sudden change in sensation as a third character arrives on stage – Three – play’d by Wendy Seagar. In the presence of this chain-smoking, androgynous creator figure, the lads revert instantly to infantililty – stunned into silence by the presence of such valhallan authority.
Seager was a slick & welcome addition, her arrival tim’d perfectly & whose presence gave a vital head to the curiously beautiful body we’d been checking out. Altogether, Ballyturk lasted ninety minutes, with no interval & I can see why. To have broken the trance would have been a sin. As this sublime & often ethereal play continued its relentless roll, I & everyone in the audience were transfixed; shuffleless, whisperless, enthrall’d.
A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Sept 1st – Sept 6th
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
In Scotland around 40% of the population carry the MC1R recessive variant gene, which results in a world-beating 13% of Scots, actually having red hair. Wha’s like us? Even the county’s favourite soft drink, Irn Bru, is ginger! So it should come as no surprise, when at the start of Allan Bissett’s play, the first primitive Scot (Ali Watt) who crouched and exchanged abusive screeches with the first primitive Englishman (Andrew John Tait) to the stains of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, is wearing a Tartan Tammy with a straggly orange wig attached.
What follows is a sobering, unvarnished examination of not-so-bonnie Scotland’s involvement in the slave trade and its complicity in building the British Empire by the subjugation of other, less developed countries through the plunder of their raw materials. Few punches are pulled as Scotland (inspiringly depicted as a track suited teenager) whines and gurns its innocence in the face of a deluge of unsavoury truths. Scotland’s accuser is Big Bad Bowler-Hatted, England, who offers a fairly comprehensive list of unflattering epithets for its neighbour, many of them uncomfortably accurate.
Bissett is aware of the irony of two white men on stage discussing exploitation, so wisely introduces a young black woman (Danielle Jam) to explain the Golden Triangle that saw goods shipped from Southampton, Bristol and of course Glasgow, to Africa, where millions of the indigenous population where enslaved and transported to America. The third leg of the journey saw Sugar, cotton and tobacco sent back to Britain to be processed in industrial towns including, once again, Glasgow. It is Jam’s composed reasoned voice that draws attention to the enlightened work carried out by the Glasgow Emancipation Society in the early 1800s.
Watt’s Jock is a lively concoction of self delusion and historic grouses. He is a deliberate caricature of the jokey lad imbued with the notion that Scots are friendly, welcoming people, because they can laugh at themselves. His knowledge of Scotland’s past is heavy on the injuries received by his country but light on those it inflicted on others. Tait’s George is less of a nationally identifiable character, more a social conscience, not unlike one of the ghosts from A Christmas Carol, pointing out unpalatable facts that need to be acknowledged before Jock and Scotland can move on.
The subject of a country’s history and national scruples when dealing with the remnants of imperialism in street names and civic sculptures is a topical one that deserves debate. Bissett’s play makes a worthy and at times amusing contribution to this discussion.
David G Moffat
Being the son of East End gangster, Danny ‘Longdog’ O’Halloran, meant for rather an interesting life, & more than enough material for a fascinating one-man play…
Hello Ryan, so where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
Ryan: I’m from Newham in East London, Manor Park to be precise, which isn’t too far from Upton Park and Stratford.
When did you first develop a passion for theater?
Ryan: I think the passion for acting was always there. It came out in my personality as I was growing up but with no direction. My dad didn’t see acting as a real job , which is quite ironic as being a criminal isn’t exactly a real job either. Not one you can declare anyway.
What for you makes a good piece of theater?
Ryan: Being truthful for me is always good but you need to take your audience on a journey with a story and have them invested in the actors.
Can you tell us about your training?
Ryan: My training at the Poor School was right up my alley, the directors there, including the founder Paul Caister, pull no punches and if something’s not good enough they let you know. I was brought up around people who don’t mince their words so this was very familiar to me. The directors there had different styles but all accumulated into making is more rounded actors .
You’ve got three famous figures from history coming round for dinner. Who would they be & what would you cook; starter, mains & dessert?
Ryan: If I had three famous people coming round for dinner I’d chose Nicola Tesla first. Alexander the Great would be another one as he conquered the known world during his time and actually fought in his wars and didn’t hide in a bunker letting other people die for him. The sights he would have seen should be enough to keep everyone interested at a dinner party. I’d also invite Tommy Cooper or Spike Milligan. I wouldn’t cook because I’m rubbish at home cooking. I wouldn’t want to mug myself off with bad food so I’d secretly order the best takeaway I know. I have a brilliant Chinese restaurant near me called Chans – I’d call them.
You are in the middle of bringing a play, Prairie Flower, to London, can you tell us about it?
Ryan: Prairie Flower is a snippet of my dad’s life, belief and moral code. I wanted to show warts and all what my dad’s world was like, Many people who write books and make films of the same genre haven’t a clue. Paul Caister (my director and producer) saw that I had far too much to show everything on stage so developed my original script into something that works on stage for two hours. It’s still evolving as we go and Paul has had new ideas and things change every week.
How is it going so far?
Ryan: Prairie Flower has been very well received by the audience who have seen it. The public aren’t stupid, the crime genre is riddled with stuff that makes people not believe what they’re seeing and hearing. I’m using everyone’s real names and real situations that happened, this is history as well as a play.
What materials did you use during the research period?
Ryan: The research period wasn’t that hard, I already had a life time of information locked away. These are real people and real stories so to get more accuracy I spoke to family and family friends who were around at that time to get the extra detail. And permission to talk about it. The people I speak about have either passed away or have already served time for the crimes I talk about. So I’m not breaking the rules, as my dad would put it.
What compelled you to write & star in a play about your father?
Ryan: What compelled me to write this is that my mum and dad’s life was more interesting than any book or film I’d come across. The fact my dad wanted to remain in the shadows was a shame as his story is jaw dropping . But because it’s real and true I wanted to share his story with everyone.The fact I’m playing him means it will be done right. Who better to play my father than his own flesh and blood?
How is director Paul Caister handling everything?
Ryan: Paul has handled this brilliantly and over the course of a couple of years has soaked up as much information as possible to understand how to direct it. He has given me absolute freedom to play my father whilst having the technical ability to tweak and fine tune what I’m doing so it works on stage.
What do you hope an audience member will take away from watching Prairie Flower, on what levels do you want to connect with them?
Ryan: What I hope audience members take from watching our show is a little bit of authenticity. Nothing is ever black and white and my dad’s world was a complete grey area. He never wanted to glorify his way of life and would advise anyone to stay away from it at all costs. He was proud of the man he was but at the same time had so many regrets. He was from a bygone age and if the audience are left with wanting to know more at the end of it then I’ve done what I set out to do. Only a TV series could cover the detail I have.
Highgate Village, London
September 25-29, October 2-6 (19.30)