JOYCE MCMILLAN on TONIGHT DAVID IRELAND WILL LECTURE, BOX AND DANCE at Oran Mor, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 7.4.10
4 stars ****
DA-DADA-DADA-DADA: no, it’s not the theme from the Archers, it’s the sound of a generation of Scottish theatre artists embracing a new wave of absurdism, no doubt in response to the sheer absurdity of the times. The Dadaists did it in Paris during the First World War; John Byrne produced a home-grown version in the late 1970’s, when he invented his alter ego Frances Seneca McDade, short-trousered poet of Back Sneddon Street. And now, the brilliant young actor Sandy Grierson, with equally brilliant actor David Ireland, co-writer Lorne Campbell and director Selma Dimitrijevic, offer us the totally absurd life-story of Ireland’s alleged ancestor Arthur Craven, also known as Fabian Abinerius Lloyd, born Lausanne, Switzerland in 1887, and last seen playing in a drum & bass club in Lisburn – or was it Lisbon – last March, at the age of 122.
So what do we get, in Ireland’s 50-minute lecture on the life of Craven? Well, in tribute to some absurdist events staged in Paris 90-odd years ago, Ireland appears in long early-20th-boxing shorts, dances a bit (notably with gangly volunteer from the audience), and gives us a preposterous lantern lecture on Craven’s biography. He also assigns to various audience members the roles of key cultural players from Marcel Duchamp to William Carlos Williams, and causes us to make paper hats and boats out of our programmes, which fold along dotted lines that prove, on closer inspection, to be tiny handwritten quotes. And the point about all this is that, against all the odds, it makes absolutely compelling theatre. Ireland is a hugely talented and skilled performer, who sustains the pace of the whole show by sheer force of personality. And the script, by Grierson and Campbell, features the kind of wild and eloquent flight of fantasy, powered by a huge desire to reconnect with the creative past, that makes even nonsense well worth listening to; or perhaps suggests that, at the deepest level, it’s not nonsense at all.