Behaviour Week 2: Bullet Catch, Gregor McGregor, The Bagwell In Me


JOYCE MCMILLAN on BEHAVIOUR: WEEK 2 at the Arches, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 25.4.09

Bullet Catch  4 stars ****
Gregor MacGregor   3 stars ***
The Bagwell In Me  3 stars ***

WHEN ARTISTIC DIRECTOR Jackie Wylie launched her new Behaviour festival at the Arches, she promised a feast of work that would not only crash the boundaries between art-forms, but would challenge the idea of any fixed distinction between behaviour on stage, and the kind of performance we all put up with friends, colleagues and lovers,  every day of our lives.  And in this final week of the event,  she delivers a cluster of shows that fulfil that remit to perfection.

Rob Drummond’s Bullet Catch, for instance, patrols the boundary between straight theatre and a pure showbiz conjuring act.  With the help of a dazzling assistant recruited from the audience, he performs weird tricks involving cards and floating tables, and finally prepares to attempt the most daring of all, the trick where the illusionist catches a bullet between his teeth.

The real complexity of Drummond’s show, though, lies in his exploration of a further boundary, the one between the conjuring trick and real life.  Many illusionists have died trying to perform the “bullet catch”.  And in considering the fate of one of them, wh died on stage in 1909,  Drummond leads us into a startlingly deep reflection on the mysterious relationship between performance and despair, and between the intense life of the stage, and the sudden blackness of death.

Al Seed’s latest show is a far less polished work than Bullet Catch, but no less interesting.  In a radical departure from his usual physical theatre, Seed and his partner on sound and visuals, Guy Veale, take the format of the simple lantern lecture, and turn it into an astonishing meditation on the power of imagination to shape and change reality, and to build new futures.  Seed’s subject is Gregor McGregor, a crazy Scottish adventurer of the early 19th century, who reinvented himself as the ruler of an imaginary Central American kingdom, persuading many gullible investors and migrants to invest in his non-existent realm.  Seed takes this story as inspiration for a dazzling series of thoughts and images about utopian thinking in general, about investment as a gesture of imagination, and about how nations are dreamed of and made.   It’s a potent topic for these times, in Scotland and elsewhere; and although Seed’s script still seems like a first draft, read from rough printout, the potential of this show is immense.

As for Ann Liv Young of New York – well, like her previous work at the Arches, her latest show looks like a slow-mo collision between a 1960’s New York happening and a modern gents-only club night, with a mix of serious identity politics thrown in.  In a u-shaped dressing-room of a performance space, Ann Liv delivers a barrage of loud song, raunchy dance, full-on sexual imagery and constant self-interruption; if you want to see the idea of “interrogating performance” made flesh, this is it.

Somewhere in there, though, is a strong spine of thought about the triangular relationship between the first US President George Washington, his wife Martha, and their black slave Oney, all reimagined for the age of President Obama; and those who think there’s no serious thematic intent behind Ann Liv’s crotch-shots, her nudity, her deliberate narrative nonsense, and her ferocious assault on the sexual secrets at the heart of American culture, may be making the mistake of their lives.


One response to “Behaviour Week 2: Bullet Catch, Gregor McGregor, The Bagwell In Me

  1. Brilliant column Joyce and when that not so nice Mr Cameron is hacking us to death Scotland will I am sure choose independence! Hugh Kerr

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