FringeReview Scotland 2019
We are in a chat show that ostensibly is looking at how the director of Them!, the 2019 remake of a 1954 sci fi film, is looking to raise funds to complete the project. Director Stewart Laing is the guest to try and raise our interest before, in succession, he is replaced with an actor to represent him, we see a clip from the movie, the love interest sings, two actors argue over the nature of the project, we meet the future as 5 cloned children chant responses, the protagonist of the movie arrives having changed ethnicity and sex, before we go off to boogie and finish with 150,000 ants. Diversity of experience and offer are the cornerstones of the live project and it certainly tries hard to deliver.
This is a piece that ostensibly is about the theatre and its forms. We are in a chat show format for most of it, beloved of the television audiences throughout the UK and beyond, and safe territory. Them! stays true to the format of a sofa, the live band, the opening titles, closing credits sequences and themes with guests are all there as a structure. It is however a theatrical piece where the interval does not happen half way through, the opening monologue is not filled with topical jokes and the interviewees can be a little, offbeat; even more so than the car crash guests beloved of repeat shows that give us the 100 worst moments annually.
That it made us question what we had seen, was a success. Director, Stewart Laing has given us plenty of food for thought and I was certainly thinking about it long after I had got my offer of a whiskey, tried to find my way out and nearly knocked over Laing when I tried to go the wrong way. The concept of part one – the chat show worked for me.
The band are good and the structure fine, host Kiruna Stamell works hard to get us on board and is largely successful. She can sing and the “end” is a fine piece of music. Our future children were also wonderfully eerie, cheery and chilling as they speak together. The design is great though the staging of the chat show format gives a theatre a bit of a challenge, but it works because this is the format in which chat shows are recorded.
Technically there was little to fault although the trackies were a stylized choice which didn’t work for me, the concept, as a whole did.
I loved the advert in the interval and that was where I felt there might be a bigger idea struggling to get through the script.
Where I really had issues therefore was that I found the script overly indulgent in how it addressed the issues of the art rather than the issues of the underlying ideals. By the time that Toni arrived I had lost the danger of the piece and was struggling to keep my head around the argument between the director and the love interest, Prof. I found Prof less than likeable though some of the points being made could have found me more receptive if the text had been crisper and less wordy. It also helps to enter with a bit of a flourish and musically it had been an off night.
The decision to replace the director with an actor was a good one and I would have done that sooner. I would also have sought to be far more radical in my choice of staging and developing the piece as Stamell’s interplay with the camera during the interviews was something that started to push but then fell back. The interplay could have been interesting to pursue in the difference between live events and recorded history.
The connections between part 1, and the 2 and 3 was lost for me. I don’t drink so the offered whiskey was no solace.
Overall this was a concept with a great deal of merit, but for me it fell a little short. The journey, however, was one where afterwards, I could muse and consider that what I had seen was likely to alter a perception. Mine remains as it was but could change with the next stage beyond. I am curious, having seen Paul Bright’s Confessions what Laing will do next and perhaps that is what it was all about – the journey.