A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Nov 12th – Nov 17th
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
A projection of the book ‘Oscar Slater – the trial that shamed a city’ served both as a surreal backdrop and an introduction to Stuart Hepburn’s production, telling the story of a shameful episode in the City’s history which saw Oscar Slater, a German Jew, found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment for a crime he did not commit. The story unfolds, narrated by the great Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, played by the familiar actor Ron Donachie, and it becomes clear that Conan Doyle himself took a great interest in the case and had been instrumental in uncovering the injustice done to Slater, played by Kevin Lennon.
The dialogue sets out for us the grim facts of the case; how 83 year old Marion Gilchrist (played by Ashley Smith) was brutally murdered for a diamond brooch on 21 December 1908. The crime spelled disaster for Oscar who was quickly identified as the likely culprit on the flimsiest of evidence. The drama was intense and moving, but not without its moments of humour, as it portrayed the turmoil of the trial and Oscar’s death sentence, later commuted to hard labour. We were brought close to tears as the dead woman took to the stage and gave her testimony from the grave, she being the closest witness.
But Sir Arthur, our narrator, used his Sherlock-Holmes-like powers of deduction to show that the evidence of the detectives in the case did not stand up to scrutiny, and that the conviction was more to do with prejudice against the foreigner than any real evidence. As he listened to the conflicting accounts of detectives and so-called witnesses, he would feign tiredness, with sad music playing in the background, and echoing the feelings of Oscar, locked away in prison for all of 20 years with his hopes sometimes being raised only to be cruelly dashed again by yet another seemingly outlandish official obstacle.
This production leaves you with a feeling of abhorrence and shame. The moments of silence only heightening the sense of shame, taking us to a place where for one to be ashamed is for all to be ashamed. We have to ask ourselves who is ultimately responsible when it comes to questions of guilt and innocent. Who will accept responsibilities far beyond the call of duty in order for the truth to win through in the end.
Big ideas, big questions, sharp and careful reasoning, all on show at the Oran Mor. A play that faced you with something that really mattered and didn’t allow you to turn away.
Until Saturday 10th November
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
Viewing this play was a first on two fronts – the first time I had seen a live radio play and the first time I had seen a piece of work addressing Indian Partition. I was wary that I may be in for a lecture and with the stage left to the bare bones set of microphones and a table with sound effects equipment there would be no-where to hide from it’s preachy tones. Yet I need not have feared for ‘Partition’ addressed complex issues with a light touch. As a play it emphasised the humour of its situation whilst not shying away from the historical horrors behind it.
The play started with a collage of crackly recorded voices from the past as politicians, activists and royalty spoke of the fateful date when the Indian subcontinent was split in two and divided into India and Pakistan. Underneath the mix was the ghostly echo of a news bulletin unfurling the events. Then we were upended by a crying woman calling out to someone – her boyfriend, husband, father. It was all far from clear. The play started out in this rather jumpy way which felt initially quite jarring. I struggled to tell who the characters were or how they related to each other. This wasn’t helped by the novelty – to myself at least – of having different characters in the same costume playing multiple characters in quick succession, and with no stage props or scene changes to help guide me. Soon however the play seemed to settle into itself and I became accustomed to the nature of the radio play set up.
In fact the nature of how the play was staged often emphasised the skills of the actors involved. The actors were able to convey their different characters through acts as simple as taking off a hat or adjusting a scarf and at times seemed to physically embody their differing roles beautifully. All the actors were worthy of praise in this regard but special credit should go to Sushil Chudasama whose performances of both the energetic and playful Rajpal and his reserved Grandfather, Ranjit contrasted beautifully.
At first I was initially put off slightly by the central couple who I found a bit too ordinary to be compelling. The supporting cast of characters seemed bolder and more intriguing and yet I gradually I began to see that the strength of the play was in its every day setting and its gentle humour which rooted it in a provincial Northern landscape which felt both familiar and safe. The cosiness of this setting lent both tension and power to the moments when darker undercurrents were revealed.
The use of sound throughout the play was superb and added a great deal to the piece helping the audience to evoke changes not only in space and time but also in mood. With clever use of sound effects and music we were one minute in the cavernous magnificence of the town hall, the next in a bustling cafe. I found the judicious use of silence also highly effective lending power to moments of already heightened emotion such as the monologues.
Once we learnt of the struggles of the two lovers to bring together their families for their special day the play began to explore the darker undercurrents of the subject and the reasons for these divisions. These moments in which we found out the real life brutalities partition was responsible for were handled with a marked subtlety. In lesser hands these shocking and emotional truths – they are based on real life testimonials – could have jarred badly with the overall tone of the play but here they almost snuck up upon the audience making them all the more moving. We learn not only how events of real life horror can change individuals beyond recognition but how the fear and anger associated with them can be passed down the generations and have repercussions decades later and thousands of miles away from their ground zero.
I found Partition to be both an enjoyable drama full of lively characters and also a very effective tool for the historical and cultural lessons it clearly wished to teach. It’s light touch and affection for the people and places it evoked was its real strength and in this way made the darkness underneath seem all the more potent than any number of more bleak and worthy works could have been.
A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Nov 5th – Nov 10th
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
As we walked to the downstairs venue at Glasgow’s Oran Mor, the room opened on a stage where written in large red letters was the word LIVE. The guitars and podium were standing by and the room had that very special atmosphere that promised that the hour would indeed be ‘Live’. As a title, ‘We interrupt this programme’ worked in so many ways, as the play swiftly moved from scene to scene. It seemed The DM (Danger Mouse) Collective couldn’t help but make jokes and use sarcasm to deliver their dangerous message.
No topic was off limits; racism, politics, alcoholism: all were thrown at the wall to see what would stick. The interplay between the actors, such as a dialogue ridiculing skin tone segregation, enhanced and sharpening the issues, seeking to make some sense of the seemingly overwhelming concerns that these days stretch over the globe. Not to mention the way we are manipulated by live TV and the media. Everything was challenged with close scrutiny, without fear.
They used many characters to show us that it is only when each voice is heard that meaningful progress can happen. Props and costumes; music and songs were all used with great purpose to build up the pictures and tell the stories. Strong writing, grabbing us by the proverbials with punchy, lively action that confronted us with something that bordered on liberation for the masses…
The scenes worked so well that we forgot that the stage had only one set. And the sense of purpose grew stronger and more focused as the jokes flew by. It was as if they were employing every theatrical device known to man in order to make their point – the only thing missing was a trapeze act or a gorilla suit. Just the use of simple things like the wearing of a certain hat or a bathrobe or a business suit, helped to empty our minds of things that might just be irrelevant, of no real use, and offer instead the bright opinion that our minds matter, despite the ubiquitous machinations of the multimedia.
As I write this review, I am not only writing about the play as a piece of drama, but as a response to the challenges it set me. The company has created a piece of work which encourages the audience to look and really see what’s in front of them, to dig deep for understanding and truth. This drama mastered everything in its path in a way that made us view their subjects both in pieces and as a whole. Power to the people
New company Ja?Theatre are bringing /SYLVIA\ to this year’s border-busting Voila European Theatre Festival for the first time. Witness a historical portrait painting session in 1920s Berlin Etcetera Theatre, Camden; 13/16/18 Nov. We spoke to Dutch director Anne Mulleners……
Hello Anne, so where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
Anne: Hello Mumble. I’m originally from the Netherlands, a town called Nijmegen, which is near the German border on the east side, & now I’m living in Lewisham, South London.
When did you first develop a passion for theatre?
Anne: To be honest I mainly developed a love for the theatre when I moved to England to study a degree in English Literature at the University of Greenwich. In my first year I began to see quite a few theatre pieces through my course, & as a result of seeing these I switched my course in the second year to Drama & English. From that moment it has just developed more & more.
Can you tell us about your training?
Anne: After I graduated I went on to do a masters in Theatre Criticism & Dramaturgy at the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama. From there I’ve been mainly freelancing in assisting & stage management work – to do as much practical work as possible.
Can you tell us about Ja? Theatre?
Anne: Well, we all did the same MA at Central. I found the play – Sylvia – when I was in Paris with our course. I grew interested in putting it on, or at least translating or adapting it. I spoke to Melissa Syverson about this & we began to develop it. At some point we thought why don’t we create a company to put it on as we were both interested in making work & then, after this current configuration of roles, we would like to continue making work which perhaps someone else would direct.
The company seems to have a specific theatrical MO- which is described as ‘overcoming the ever-present dichotomy between British New Writing and ‘European’ Regie theater.’ What is the backstory?
Anne: During our MA we read an article in the Guardian by David Hare which highlighted a Germanic form of theatre in which the director leads a protest & has more powers than maybe the writer. David Hare describes how he finds that this kind of theatre is infesting Britain. We had a discussion about this article & how it was received, & because Melissa is from Norway, & we have both have worked in Europe, & since the article we became struck with both the differences & the similarities, but definitely by the fact that people tend to always separate these things. We became intrigued by making theatre here in Britain that would bridge the gap, utilising & engaging with both traditions.
Do you socialise with the ladies outwith your professional relationship?
Anne: We meet up all the time – & we do try sometimes to do other things & not talk about the company, which proves difficult!
Find out More about Ja? Theatre
You are directing for the company for the first time with /SYLVIA\ /a woman becomes a painting\, at this year’s VOILA festival, can you tell us about the play?
Anne: Its basically a play in which you see the main character being painted in 1920s Berlin. She is a real person, Sylvia Von Harden. You see this painting session & while she narrates her life, she more & more becomes this portrait. It engages with themes of gender, about LGBTQ representation, & its mainly about how we see people – how people can at first be a subject & then become an object.
That is indeed an obscure corner of history – what drew the company to it?
Anne: When I saw the play, I found it a very nice text, on the page its black & red, its a bilingual piece, I never mentioned that, its very niche. The main draw to it was the way the language went from French to German & then German to French – & the colouring was altered with the switch & I thought it a really interesting way of dealing with print. Then it also turned out to be a monologue, & then to be about this fascinating woman in 1920s Berlin, so it all just kept adding & becoming more & more interesting.
How is directing Sylvia coming to you – is it natural or a struggle?
Anne: I would say I’ve obviously had some training & had some ideas to go off – but I did find the first few rehearsals to be really difficult having not done it as much, especially practically. But the more & more I’ve been doing it in rehearsals, & seen what works & what doesn’t, & also with the person in the room & how that goes, I’ve come to understand it & to also enjoy it, which is the main part. Yes, its definitely a struggle, but something that definitely pays off the more I do it.
Thank you Anne, one more question. Have you prepared Sylvia especially for the pan-European Voila Festival?
Anne: No. We were already developing it last year & we even went to the Voila Festival last year & we were like, this is a really great festival, we should apply to this. So we applied this year & were happily accepted. In that sense it wasn’t specifically developed for Voila, but its definitely a really good match. We are interested in the European theatre aspect of our work, & it fits really well with their overall program.
The Etcetera Theatre, Camden
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