JOYCE MCMILLAN on JERUSALEM: THE SONG OF DEEDS at Brian Cox Studio, Glasgow, for The Scotsman, 4.8.10
4 stars ****
THE MORAL COMES AT the end, in Peter Arnott’s new play for the Scottish Youth Theatre summer festival. “To tell the largest and most generous of stories is what pleases me. It seem the decent thing to do,” says Arnott’s heroine Mira, as she sets off into the future; and whatever anyone makes of this wildly ambitious play no-one could deny its largeness, or its huge generosity of spirit.
Jerusalem – The Song Of Deeds is a picaresque tale set in the 11th century, at the time of the first Crusade. An orphan boy called Parsifal stands at a crossroads in full knightly kit, waiting for adventures; a girl called Mira appears, and invites him to join her and her father in their travelling theatre and storytelling troupe. Parsifal and Mira are soon swept up in the bloody tides of history, as assorted groups of ecstatic religionists and bloodthirsty “Christian” thugs sweep them across Europe to the gates of Byzantium, before they finally reach Jerusalem itself.
Two and a half hours long, and featuring a cast of seventeen actors, Arnott’s play is a thoroughly bizarre and unsettling piece of work, veering from Spamalot-style musical numbers and Pythonesque comedy sequences to grave and exquisite laments for the agony of war, and a long and serious philosophical debate among Christians, Jews and Moslems about the nature of God, of faith, and of narrative itself. In the end, though, there’s no resisting the dazzling commitment of its young and gifted SYT cast, led by Chanelle Buchan as Mira. Mary McCluskey’s production revels in the play’s quicksilver shifts of mood, Kenny Miller’s designs wrap the actors in astonishing swathes of dust-shattered taffeta, and veil the stage in shimmering cloth-of-gold; and the whole event glows with theatrical imagination and wildness, sometimes silly, sometimes briliant, and always completely liberating.