JOYCE MCMILLAN on ARCHES LIVE! 2009 – THE FIRST WEEKEND at the Arches, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 22.9.09
4 stars ****
IN THE LADIES’ TOILET, there’s a performance artist called Jen Darcy sending up the health-and-safety over-reaction to swine flu by lecturing us on how to wash our hands. In a dark, spotlit basement downstairs, two recorded voices explore the bleak sadness of online relationships that never involve a single, tender human touch. And in every performance space around the building, short works-in-progress bloom like flowers or rage like tempests; because this is Arches Live! 2009, the annual festival of the cutting edge in Scottish performance art, and no-one except the Arches’ artistic director, Jackie Wylie, knows exactly what’s going to happen next.
There were eleven shows, installations and events to be seen in the first weekend of Arches Live!, with twenty still to come over the next week. There was the one about a woman stuck in her jumper, which alternated three times, over an hour, between complete brilliance – both satirical and lyric – and efforts at clowning so dull that the cast were lucky to escape alive. There was the shouty Cable, by Stadium Rock of Edinburgh, a show full of sharp urban stories and amazing sounds; but unable to shape itself in any way that would hold the attention.
And then there were three seriously moving efforts, from the front line of a civilisation that seems to have fast-forwarded too far, to the brink of extinction, and is now desperately raking back through the detail of personal and political history in the effort to grasp and understand the present. Catriona Easton and Harry Wilson’s Pictures Of Heaven is an exquisite show for four actors, a violinist, and some haunting projected images and reflections, about remembered moments of perfect happiness, and what they tell us about the things we should cherish in life. Jess and Tim Thorpe’s Chip is a fabulously life-affirming and beautifully-structured show featuring Jess and her Dad, about what we inherit, what we reject, the nature of parenthood, and perhaps the nature of goodness, transmitted from generation to generation.
And give or take some fierce live music and a few projected images, Kieran Hurley’s Hitch is a passionate piece of traditional storytelling about how he hitch-hiked to L’Aquila in Italy to join the demonstrations at this year’s G20 summit of world leaders, tentatively rediscovering along the way a whole universe of fear and hope, the possibility of ordinary solidarity, and the very idea of the people, lost for more than a generation. “The people have the power to redeem the work of fools,” he cries towards the end, quoting Patti Smith; and in that brief moment of political hope, the audience at the Arches cheer him to the echo.