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Edinburgh Fringe 2011


Tumult In The Clouds

Genre: Drama


Pleasance Courtyard


Low Down

Raw, bleak, yet lyrical, Fleeto’s savagely well-acted tale of gang vigilantism and its consequences deserves to go out with a bang rather than a whimper.



Taking its cue from The Iliad, Tumult In The Clouds’ truncated version of Paddy Cunneen’s much-lauded play takes full advantage of the Pleasance Courtyard’s intimacy to provide a visceral and threatening theatrical experience, both exciting and repellent at the same time, in its first half. However, despite the fine writing and excellent acting, the play loses its power at about the mid-point, becoming a talking-shop of social problems and guilty rationalisation as it veers away from the classical model, the result of having raised a member of the chorus to the central role rather than focus on its tragic hero.

The play, which is running in conjunction with Cunneen’s “Wee Andy”, takes the central event of that piece – Andy’s being slashed in a Glasgow street incident – and focuses on the indirect consequences of the incident. Mackie (Jordan McCurroch)’s disbelief and righteous anger at the attack is taken advantage of by charismatic gang leader Kenzie (Neil Leiper) and he is drafted into a roaming gang of “fleetoes”; tooled-up, hooded street-fighters, bent on extracting revenge. Despite the admonitions of a police chief, admirably portrayed by Steve McNicoll but central to one of the narrative’s most glaring errors, violence ensues, leading to Mackie’s accidental stabbing of a white student, himself defending his set-upon Asian friend. A later confrontation between the guilt-struck Mackie and Kenzie over the student’s notebook is followed by a meeting with the victim’s mother (a heart-rending Pauline Knowles) where their differing world views come into verbal opposition.

The first half, up to and including the confrontation with Kenzie over the notebook is performed in a mixture of iambic pentameter and street-slang. Cunneen’s motives are simple and honourable – the heightened language makes it impossible to simply dismiss these lads as feral youth. As they storm the stage and chase an invisible enemy they form a bloody chorus, frightening to behold, in contrast to the aged seer that is the police chief, himself a former soldier and man of violence, who forecasts the senseless end to which all this anger will come but whose premonitions are ignored. It is theatre that pulsates with a throbbing vein, that grabs its audience by the throat and slams it against the wall.

And then it lets go.

After the confrontation with Kenzie and the reclaiming of the notebook, the pace slackens, the chorus disappears, the language becomes less ornate, more commonplace, and the play seems to lose its way. Not that it is still without its moments. The confrontation between police chief and Mackie, albeit in the latter’s head, bears all the hallmarks of the authorial voice, denying the knee-jerk social services speak of “jobless and hopeless youth, with nothing to turn to but violence” and insists we try these glib excuses on the victims of violent crime and their families. Let it not be said that “Fleeto” shies away from its own stark sense of morality. However, the last fifteen or so minutes consist of two people talking at a café table, all sense of physical drama gone. Perhaps this is a deliberate contrast, perhaps it’s the consequences of abridging an 80 minute play into just under an hour’s performance, but it does make the play feel as though it loses focus.

To this reviewer, the problem is more a structural one. In reverting back to Greek theatrical archetypes, Cunneen has sought to underline the universal nature of what is often described as a modern problem. However, he ignores the piece’s tragic hero. Despite his prominence as a narrator, Mackie is not the tragic hero of this piece, brought down by a personal flaw. That distinction goes to Kenzie, the backstreet Braveheart and leader of men, whose cocksure arrogance is both his own making and undoing. Instead Mackie is a member of the chorus, drafted in and swept along by events. As a result, despite Cunneen’s bleak coda, Mackie’s story can only be a cliff-hanger, an unresolved episode. That said, I await the companion piece “Wee Andy” – same fine writer, same excellent cast – with high expectations and a hint of low terror.