JOYCE MCMILLAN on DEATH STORY at Oran Mor, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 8.5.08
3 stars ***
WRITE ABOUT WHAT you know, writers are often told; the trouble is that often all they know is the self-absorbed and atypical world of the arts and media. Alma Cullen is one of Scotland’s most experienced and impressive dramatic writers; yet for all that, the heart lurches briefly towards the boots when this stylish three-hander – playing this week in the Play, Pie and Pint lunchtime season – begins to move towards an examination of the world of 21st century confessional publishing; and it’s very much to Cullen’s credit that despite all the pitfalls, her short satire delivers an unexpectedly fierce final punch.
The situation is simple, and perfectly-structured. Following the sudden death of Lily – an elegant, pin-thin fashion journalist, superbly played by Briony McRoberts – her widower Bernard, a kindly but pompous university grandee, and her rakish failed poet of an ex-lover Marcus, meet in Glasgow’s Necropolis, and begin to rake over her life; meanwhile, the dead Lily perches listening and commenting on a nearby tombstone. In no time, both men are writing confessional books about Lily; and although Marcus knows the truth about the last years of her life, he soon calculates that a bit of strategic inaccuracy, in the area of sex, will help to boost sales.
At the end of the play, we therefore see Michael Mackenzie and Vincent Friell, as Bernard and Marcus, being feted and lionised on their respective lecture circuits; while – in a conclusion beautifully shaped and choreographed by director Ken Alexander – Lily’s indignant wraith asks desperately for questions from the audience, of which there are none. The whole show is sometimes just a shade too elegant and classy for its own good; it’s hard to care about characters so witty and so brittle. Its final moments, though, are genuinely frightening; and they set this finely-crafted play several notches above most smart satires on the media, and their growing contempt for the very idea of truth.