FringeReview Scotland 2013
Part lecture, part exhibit this is an exploration of one man’s attempt to bring James Hogg’s masterpiece to a stage without a theatre.
We are brought into Tramway 1 through the A entrance which is underneath the seats. There we have an exhibition of the 6 sections into which Paul Bright in the late 80’s till the early 90’s tried to bring an obsession into the public’s purview. After a good 20 minutes or so of wandering round the sculptures, videos and printed material – including a rejection from Anna Stapleton at the Scottish Arts Council – every home should have one – we take our seats. George Anton takes us through an intertwined journey between Paul Bright’s six episodes and George’s own career and interludes. This begins with a video of actors playing real tennis in Glasgow to a real fight in a pub afterwards for episode one. We progress in episode two to the bizarre staging of the fight between characters on Arthur’s Seat, performed on Arthur’s Seat. We then find ourselves at the Edinburgh International Festival where Bright threw the improvised text out five days before curtain up and started again; it flopped. We then go to Traquiar House for episode five where another strange event is raved up before Bright walks off and leaves everyone stranded there. Episode six was in a letter to Anton but never staged. We hear from people who knew him and experienced his form of theatrical madness/genius in a personal homage shared with affection but never ducking clear matters of concern.
The time frame of all of this was a familiar one to me. I entered the profession in Scotland around the time that Bright was practicing. I was aware of his name and that some Scottish thing had been duff to do with Hogg at the official festival but apart from that he did not register on me at all. Perhaps he needed hindsight to help with his period of 4 years of theatrical productivity that took him to the heights of an invite to the EIFF to realise just how pretty remarkable that was; particularly on such little evidence that he could handle a cast of names that were to go on and cast a huge shadow over the theatre in Scotland in years to come.
I found much of this fascinating; but a lecture on Shakespeare would keep me riveted. I found a lot of it enthralling; but again a lecture on why the Ship was a success and the Big Picnic failed would hold my attention. Any form of homage can tend towards the self indulgent and there was plenty here for those of us who are absorbed in theatre, steeped in Scottish theatre to want to flock to see this. And perhaps in amongst here is an issue for the piece.
George Anton is a hugely engaging presence. He was able to weave his story to great effect and I was very much engaged with him. The only real issue I had was when George became upset and angry with himself. Within the context of the piece this form of staging – apologies if it was not – seemed incongruous.
There was of course one character who did not appear onstage but who was with us throughout the evening; Paul Bright himself. I believe that any examination of Bright must include some form of critique of his work. It was here that I found myself wondering whether I was totally taken by him as a theatrical and bombastic genius. Certainly his body of work was there to impress and in 4 years to capture the imagination of the International Festival was laudable but I left wondering if there were more worthy and radical people who have stayed the course for longer.
Of course we never found out of what he had died in 2010 in Brussels but, as he was a fan of Trocchi the questions hangs with some suggested answers.
Giving us a mixture of media from song, sound, picture, video and narration was effective for me but the person I brought along was somewhat restless. It was mutually agreed that the care and attention to detail was worthy of admiration but herein lies a dilemma. This has a fairly short run and will be finished by the end of June. It may of course be down to a variety of contractual reasons etc but it may also just be that people realise this has limited appeal.
But then we should ask ourselves if the celebration of a theatrical maverick in a country that appears to have few should not simply be a compulsory part of our education? As an educational piece and with such high production values this would keep their wee bums on seats throughout. The actors and creators of tomorrow deserve to be aware of how this man, without Arts Council support, dared to toast the Queen in a Celtic pub and then convince 20+ hardy souls to walk up to Arthur’s Seat to see a fight and a big ghostie. Rather than setting out to be facetious I am attempting to be provocative. Dangerous, real and Fringe theatre sits on an edge if it is to be true to its own values. Occasionally it may fall of the edge and this is why such projects as this are to be welcomed.
More than a few stood to applaud at the end of the performance and many stayed on to chat through the exhibits, this time with more background. We left; not because we were upset or because we had somewhere pressing to go but because we wanted to talk over what we had seen and find a common response. There probably isn’t one. At the heart of this is the story of the past told with passion. That passion is for the theatre and if you have it, this is for you. If you don’t then perhaps you should find something more suited to an entertaining evening.