My Shrinking Life
JOYCE MCMILLAN on MY SHRINKING LIFE at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 14.9.12
4 stars ****
IN THE programme for this new National Theatre of Scotland show, there’s a fabulous picture of its creator Alison Peebles – now over 50 and weakened by multiple sclerosis, but still defiantly sexy and glamorous – swathed in a deep red satin gown. And although a similar dress features in the show, the live performance somehow never reaches the climactic moment when Peebles might put the dress on, and push the tension between her physical weakness and her undimmed personality to that intense visual limit.
In every other way, though, this wild and beautiful show, devised with director Lies Pauwels and the company, emerges as an unforgettable series of theatrical variations on Peebles’s experience, and an unflinching creative coda to last week’s Paralympic love-in. On a set like a hospital waiting-room, with a wheelchair parked ominously in the corner, Peebles walks unsteadily but with undimmed bravura from microphone to chair, reflecting sharply on her experience; while three other selves – raging young dancer, tearful young actress, and solemn little girl – burst in on her peace, along with a willowy young man who sometimes hates her, and sometimes simply wants to be her.
Pauwels uses an intense score of classical fugues and laments to drive the performance and accompany the dance; there’s also a dense network of references to other stories of ageing actresses – Chekhov’s The Seagull, Sunset Boulevard. In the end, though, it’s the presence of Peebles herself – maintaining fierce and playful eye contact with the audience, trying on the dazzling high heels she can no longer walk in – that forces us to face the central truth of the show. For almost all of us, one day, will be that vibrant, sexy person trapped in a body that no longer works; and struggling to face the future with even a tenth of the energy, the defiance, and the glorious refusal to drown in pain, that Alison Peebles embodies here, and everywhere.