FringeReview Scotland 2023
With a massive projection as back drop, Nellie the Glesga clippie, who knows a thing or two about buses takes us through the eight acts of things going fine, things being changed because they were going fine, things going badly, people digging their heels in despite things going badly, the solution to things going badly and the reasons why the people behind things going badly, might not want them to go fine again. On roller skates. Inspired by the 80’s classic, Starlight Express. The story is a simple one, according to Nellie. Buses, trams and trains were fine. Plenty of different companies operating within the state for a while, until the 1980’s. Then came deregulation and increased competition. The way that people got about became confusing as bigger companies swallowed up smaller ones and routes and services began to disappear. And then there was an opportunity to bring buses back into public ownership – and that is a 21st Century Act still to be used by a Scottish Council. The question being asked was, Glasgow, why not?
There is something wonderful about this, and it is in its simplicity. The performance of it, from the venue, deep in the heart of a community thoroughly dependent upon decent public transport, the use of local roller bladers and the all-female cast which screams out – take note(s). With Harrison herself starting us off with an introduction before Nellie the Clippie takes over, we really have the feeling of the 1980’s – from the nostalgic feel of agitprop, the heart of a community engaged – full house notices went up days before – and the cross between a lecture and the quirkiness of a variety show with a speciality act. It all works.
That’s not to say that it could not do with the script being a little less power point, the roller skaters either going all out performance or being the props in the agitprop and not halfway between, and a desire for some more for Nellie to do, other than talk through the script, but I left knowing more than I did when I went in. I felt I had seen something theatrical, and I decided to join the Get Glasgow Moving Group. Not bad for a half hour out the cold in Easterhouse.
There is something very theatrical and effective about Bus Regulation: The Musical which has been left behind a little by theatre as a medium. As the debate rages over Arts Council England cutting several companies and forcing others out of London or how Creative Scotland has dug into reserves temporarily to keep companies afloat, the idea of getting into a community, working alongside them and creating something which is effective in challenging and hopefully changing policy is oftentimes lost. People don’t want to lose something by doing it – but they bloody well should!
This Strathclyde version is one of the trilogy – the other two in England, in Liverpool and Manchester – tell the tale of bus deregulation in their authorities with equal gusto and community involvement. Manchester have bit the bullet and decided to take buses back into public ownership – something Barbara Castle did at the click of her fingers in months, modern progress means it shall take years, however the reason for this musical being in Glasgow had its story well told with some side swipes at those who deserve it and some solutions for those who think they cannot be found. Maybe this theatre malarkey shall catch on…
Oh… and in a nod to the 1980s, I liked it so much, I didn’t buy a company, I joined a movement…