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FringeReview Scotland 2023


Stageworks East West

Genre: Drama, Fringe Theatre, LGBT, Theatre

Venue: 1051 GWR


Low Down

Sailor is a man who works as a male prostitute operating in a time when it was not just illegal to work as such but also illegal to be gay. Through a number of monologues, he describes his life from the beginnings, with his mother a Dolly Mop, growing up in a Bawdy Hoose from where he thought he saved his mother. He was just in the nick of time to rescue her from what he believed was certain death only to then earn her ire and not her thanks, after he murders his first man. He finds himself having to earn his keep and live his life on a knife edge as he endures prison, the high and even lower seas, an unscrupulous pimp and many encounters with those he robbed before his life as a runaway comes back to find him confronted by someone he had left to die.


Nakedly masturbating onstage is quite a beginning; but it sets a scene. And that scene, in the new venue in Glasgow, @THEGWR is quite entrancing. Upstairs in a bar and grill there is much promise in making an effort to come and see Thief in this setting. It is a bold move to use this production to announce the venue itself.

The intimate nature, not just of the subject matter but also of the environment in which it is seen, works well. There is a quality about it which transcends and questions a lot of values you may possess. It is not to be enjoyed as such, but to be considered. Such pieces tend to percolate as you leave, as good theatre ought to and there is much to admire in Thief. The script, by Liam Rudden, has nuance as well as shock value. The story of how Sailor got to this point in his life is handled well, as the stories drip out to feed us – we do not begin at the beginning, but towards an end which allows reflection to be built along with narrative. Structurally it therefore has more than an attention-grabbing beginning but also some visceral depictions of male sex onstage that keep your attention very focused. The tumbling and descending into how to cope with being so used and abused is perhaps expected but still manages to shock.

Technically, the venue is a work in progress as it is a hotel style setting – reminds me of some of the London pub theatres – rather than a fully functioning theatre. It makes sightlines a bit of an issue when Sailor sits but the way in which lighting is used makes the shadow on the back of the stage in some of the more intimate moments stand out. There is an assured hand at work, who understands the needs of a technically demanding venue. Similarly, the audio works really well in building tension and making us jump at the right times.

Lee Fanning, as Sailor, therefore, has a daunting task; to carry this as the only one onstage. He does so well and the bristling masculinity, combined with the pain and hurt is well performed, which makes the gentler and more painful moments – of his childhood – stand out when he brings his anger down and breaks into tears. There were times, however, when I felt he had a bit more contrast to give and emotion was delivered with bravado and angst more than subtlety and complexity. Fanning struck me, however, as an actor with much to give – much more to give.

As an opening for a new venture this was a stark choice. Like the beginning of this piece, it has captured attention. It looks like an assured second production is needed to push onwards but on the evidence of this, there are collectively some decent hands on the tiller.