FringeReview Scotland 2013
This is a devised piece of drama that begins with dancing in the foyer before we are taken past singing minstrels celebrating all that is Scottish before we enter the main theatre where the debate rages. Through sketches and set pieces that are as silly as insightful the young company takes us on a tour of the Scottish Centre for Stereotypes, a fictional border crossing in an independent future, the advertising battle for contracts to be the front of either campaign as well as Scottish History in tableaux and ten minutes alongside many, many others. It never shies away from being poignant or sentimental but it always has the good grace to laugh at itself.
This could be described as a sketch show but it is actually so much more. If there was ever a reason as to why young people should be given the vote here it is. They have worked alongside a couple of less young practitioners to provide us with the shortbread tin mentality without the tin, the vibrancy of a young and youthful new country with knowledgeable heads firmly stuck upon their shoulders and the tremendous insight that comes with age but not sullied by experience. Starting with talking directly to the audience before explaining that they had been asked to write a letter to their future selves this was an episodic exploration of the main issues our country faces on 14th September 2014. What the clever young things have done is to give us a show that is full of exploration and not opinion. I have always had issues with the definition of drama being the resolution of conflict through the adoption of character; this continues to prove my theory that drama is the exploration of conflict without any resolution. You got both sides of the debate without getting to know what the majority view onstage is. It was sheer genius to decide to take this as a theme this year and not next. It means it has none of the scrutiny of next year and all of the freedom of genuine debate.
In any devised performance the person who can get lost is the dramaturg. One of the less young things, David Cosgrove has been able to weave some tartan joy. I have no doubt that the young company were more than equal contributors but David has managed to reign in where the better sketches would have given you a clue as to what the prevailing view is whilst boosting the less loved pieces to an equal footing. It’s a consummate skill and one increasingly that a writer of David’s undoubted ability brings to any table. Coupled with an increasingly assured hand in the direction of the piece, Fraser McLeod gives us a tremendously slick and high paced piece of drama that zips and never lags.
The young performers were just great. You would think that they would be, after all they are the best Scotland has to offer; actually not a jot. The audition process is open to anyone and the 5 week course in the summer has people with tremendous experience rubbing shoulders with people with far less experience. The opportunity to work alongside theatre professionals means they raise their game; all of them do.
The only slight niggle I had was that I found some of it a tad presentational – lots of smiling and teeth when introducing big questions. It can make you feel some of it a tad insincere but that is a personal thing. I have had the misfortune of watching a Glee inspired “Poverty the Musical” style show that blew insincerity well beyond patronising. The standard of these actors, musicians and dancers – many were all 3 – meant that the performance never flagged. They had the pace right, they had the caricatures correct; I recognised myself in too many. What was great was that once again at an SYT show as soon as I sat down I relaxed and knew there was never going to be the “they’re only kids” patronising comment. They are far too good to be so patronised.
My one gripe comes from the beginning in the foyer. The acoustics are not good and some of the dialogue was just lost. In fact we were asked a question at the end of the beginning which we couldn’t hear thus leaving the young performer that asked it a little lost for a second or two before she moved on to someone else. The use of dance at the beginning was great and I think moving us after like a ceilidh on the move would have been more effective. Once in the theatre it was just joy, after joy, well… after joy!
Scottish Youth Theatre don’t do no very good. The production that I saw was at the top of its professional game. There was a young cast who could have been described as less professional than a fully trained cast – until you watched them. Skilfully crafted into a team this group of young actors gave us a performance fit to grace any stage and I have to say they gave us an overview of the magnitude of this debate that ought to be compulsory viewing in S6 throughout Scotland.
Youth Theatre can be a tough place economically these days as people find the money to send their precocious offspring to this sparkly theatre school or pay through the nose for private tuition. The best examples of Youth Theatre for me come from those who are not part of that profit motive but continue to provide theatre for the masses, by the masses. Whilst the cost of participating in SYT Summer School is hefty the blogs that the young people post on the SYT site show that their fundraising continues to be as innovative as their response to their craft development. SYT help too by sharing these great fundraising ideas. The investment these young people make in their future is as impressive therefore as their performances. Whilst risking sounding like Roy Castle – ask David Cosgrove who that is – he’s probably old enough to remember… dedication is what they give.
On the evidence of this, SYT are not just in fine fettle, the devised performance continues to be the equal of the text based piece. I know some actors can become upset they end up in one rather than the other but the beauty of devising shows is their originality and the skills that they bring. You also get to work with people who want to create something new. This was simply an excellent example of why Youth Theatre in Scotland should have increased investment.
I think you can work out that I loved the show. Where it worked best for me was that it showcased the debate without slinking into the cliché of saying where the company stood. That is a highly skilled artistic craft at work. Many adult media organs cannot manage that. It finished with a song we had already heard on the promenade on the way in with lines of such frivolity and joy at being Scottish that it made you proud to believe we can contemplate the question and have the courage to take either side.
The audience were highly appreciative though never rose to their feet – that may just be their Scottishness coming out! Apart from the minor criticism at the beginning this is something which if yer wean doesnae unerstaun whit the referendum is aw aboot ye should tak them alang tae see.