FringeReview Scotland 2012
Scandal Theatre bring a theatrical exploration of multiple personality disorder to the upstairs of a local bar. From horrendous social injustice to terrible vengeful justice we take in the excitement of a 5 year old on the arrival of a new sibling, the death of an abusive father, the move to pastures new, how the abuse continues through the most appalling of betrayals and the final chapter – a death in the family. Brought through two characters who eventually appear to be two sides o one whole, this is a theatrical piece which uses movement and narrative to engage and explore complex issues. Confusing and muddled at times it does never drop below intriguing.
The stage is bare apart from two chairs. In comes one sister, Leah, who sits drawing in a book. The drawings are frantic; giving rise to the idea that perhaps things are far from the calm that we see. Enter the other sister, Scarlet, and frantic child like games ensue. We then hear the chatter of a 5 year old telling her, willing to listen, teacher of her new arrival. She is going to be the best sister ever. From there comes the rollercoaster of the abuse of the older sister by the father, his death after another drunken binge, their moving with the mother and the insurance money buying what seems like a decent trailer until it is trashed through her alcoholism, frequenting bars and bringing home men to abuse her daughters. The latter revelation comes when the sisters try to escape through a window to find it locked on the outside. The decision to stay off school is perhaps the first clue to the later revelation as 5 years, remember is supposed to be between these two sisters. They scheme to get vodka powerful enough to kill their mother but after the scheming fails the older sister decides to take more direct action setting their home on fire and killing their mother. In the final few scenes we see both being interviewed in detention; it is then we are treated to this being one person with two sides to their character.
Scandal Theatre have made great play of this being a narrative piece of theatre. This is where I have my first issue. Playwrite, Jessica Phillippi gives us a piece that meanders and at times leaves you wondering what is going on – and not in a good way. The performances of both do drive you to want to know more but at times this isn’t enough. I was looking for more dots to join up. For example when we discover that the sister at 5 is getting a new sister it appears to be much later the abuse starts. We seem to have a mentally ill person to whom unspeakable acts happen to occur. As part of the Scottish mental Health Arts and Film Festival maybe I was looking for a deeper exploration of the effects of mental illness rather than them being a plot device. Take it out of that context and even then it is interesting rather than clever.
Both performances were never less than wholly engaging. Jessica Phillippi and Amy Conway drive through the piece at times like a literary whirlwind. They explore and in one sense cover up the gaps in the narrative by sheer energy that is very hard not to enjoy.
Staging the piece at the Old Hairdresser’s was, however, a piece of genius. Monday night, finding my way up a dark alley, into a seedy looking pub and then lead by the arrows upstairs to the type of venue lauded at the Fringe in Edinburgh – and it’s not quite yet Halloween! I just loved it. As a space it has much to commend it though the temperature and it being the end of October meant many of the audience kept their coats on. Two simple chairs used to great effect meant it did depend on the physicality and the text rather than trickery.
This is a young company and the production values evident were fairly high. Director, Deborah Hannan, gave us a taught production, with plenty to commend it, however, at times, I thought the physical was slightly less than convincing. It was perhaps the weakest part of what I saw.
The strongest part was the use of space and the sheer gustiness of the company. There wasn’t a huge audience and rich was not the criterion by which Scandal will be judged, but rich they are. Companies who take it upon themselves to get to the Fringe, be part of the Free Fringe and then come to Glasgow to find such as pace and use it for theatre are to be applauded. It shows commitment to the cause of bringing the experience of theatre to audiences that should be queuing up for an education. That there were flaws is all to the good. I shall be looking out for the names associated in the programme and for the company in the future because they took the risk and believed in their product. That they gave me a Monday night I could talk about with such passion was an infinitesimally added bonus!