Fringe Online 2021
McDade is no more; but his wife lives on. The story of Frances McDade, who was the focus of Writer’s Cramp so, so long ago, has spawned a sort of sequel – his wife. Following her fledgling career in the arts world we are treated to her emergence as an artist in her own right as the focus of an exhibition and talk which takes us back. And back we go to schooldays and fledgling opportunities, to the solo working from the less than salubrious places in which artists end up. It is all done with so much tongue in cheek, it is a marvel it doesn’t fall over.
Anything that has taken 44 years in the making, even if the work on it was never more than a passing occasional thought is to be waited with breath bated and hope eternally sprung. Byrne does not disappoint.
Taking as his starting point a play which is not often mentioned alongside the titan trilogy of The Slab Boys, it may be a lesser work for the pundits but for the principals, Writer’s Cramp clearly still holds tremendous affection. When I was but a tiny little community artist at Borderline Theatre I rubbed up against the set for Writer’s Cramp, with the resident stage manager imploring me to find a use for it – such was its beauty (Byrne designed it) and functional hope that it would harvest more creativity. It may not have been the catalyst for this piece, but it has remained fresh in my mind ever since; just as Byrne has and should eternally do.
It is therefore a bit of a moment.
The story of Pam McDade is beautifully presented in an audio drama that knows precisely what it is. It is not a visual treat, a la Writer’s Cramp, shoehorned into the earbuds but a narrative that holds up. Sure, the mock public school girl dialogue can be a bugger to listen to over and over again but then it comes from the dulcetly formed tones of a beautifully toned cast.
The story starts the journey and it has enough twists, turns and self-regard to make it a worthy piece to listen to. The appearance of Kirsty Stuart, as Pam, means we have a treat in store as she pitches Pam perfectly. She is also accompanied by a narrator in Maureen Beattie who may be in danger of making such a killing at COVID-19 hit drama in Scotland she would be forgiven or turning into an anti vaxxer to keep the lockdown going and her online career flourishing. On this evidence it is clear why her mellifluous tones and deftly pronounced syntax have been so appealing during this period in human history.
What also makes it work so well is the production values. Often, some aural drama can let this drift as the star turn or story behind the piece are an attempt to capture the zeitgeist and forget that what is needed is a quality response to our times. Here the audio, the background, the cutting and the principal focus of telling the tale is constructed with reverence and deft.
As I listened to the play I smiled often. This is not necessarily meant to make you guffaw, but it is placed just at that point of amusement and delight which defines entertaining.
Byrne is no national treasure. He is part of our international dapper led focus on what being Scottish is all about. That internationalism comes form being able to love your own self, is clear and Byrne made me love us even more, just by being an amusing, yet serious diversion in the life less free we have endured. For that, he goes beyond being treasured.