JOYCE MCMILLAN on ARCHES LIVE! 2010 at the Arches Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 28.9.10
Plucked Of Purpose 2 stars **
A Booming Voice 3 stars ***
My Hands Are Dancing But My Heart Is Cold 4 stars ****
SELF-ABSORPTION IS rarely an attractive quality; and for my taste, there was just a shade too much of it around in this year’s Arches Live! festival Skye Loneragan, for example, is a compelling performer, easy to watch even when she’s – literally – pretending to be a plastic bag. This time around, though, she’s so bereft of ideas that she’s reduced to producing an overblown one-hour meditation on her own purposelessness, symbolised both by her temporary stranding at an airport, and by the hopelessly laboured metaphor of the said plastic bag, a poor tattered thing stuck on a tree. At the moment Loneragan just looks like a brilliant actress in search of material worth her metal; maybe she should take time out, and do some Shakespeare.
Young Ben Dunn, meanwhile, joins the queue of young artists whose theme is their own set of family relationships, happy or sad. Dunn’s Big Booming Voice begins with the deeply tasteless conceit of saying that his Dad is dead, although he isn’t; what he means is that his Dad’s relationship with his Mum has broken down, and his old relationship with his Dad is dead.
There follows an entertaining 50 minute in which Dunn and his Dad, who appears only on video, sing songs, go for walks, and act out role-play about fathers and sons. Dunn is clearly bursting with talent, particularly when it comes to using sound and music to express his theme; and his Dad is a bit of a star. In the end, though, the show’s analysis of its subject is evasive to the point of shallowness. If the breakup of parents traumatises their children, let’s just say so; and stop doing shows that end at what should be their starting-point.
Ian Smith, by contrast to most Arches Live! performers, is not young. The man behind Mischief La Bas turned 50 last year, and his five-minute show My Hands Are Dancing But My Heart Is Cold is one of his brief solo meditations on that experience. We enter a darkened room, we sit alone on a chair in front of an elaborate, old-fashioned performance booth, we listen to a recording of a beautiful young woman singing an infinitely seductive song about her hidden beauty mark. Smith’s hands appear through the backdrop of the little puppet stage, long, polished and androgynous; they dance until the song ends.
Then we go round the back of the booth and sit behind Smith as he performs the show again. There are the lyrics of the song written in blood, empty bottles, and a mirror in which we are made to look into Smith’s grief-blanked eyes. For myself, I could hardly bear to look; Smith’s face simply said too much about the terrible sadness of ageing. But this is miniature art of the highest order, moving out beyond self-absorption, to that moment when performance becomes poetry.