JOYCE MCMILLAN on ARCHES LIVE! 2011 at the Arches Theatre, Glasgow, for Scotsman Arts 26.9.11
Putting Words In My Mouth 4 stars ****
Bird 4 stars ****
Smokies 3 stars ***
AFTER AN opening round of shows mainly dedicated to an exploration of rule-breaking, Arches Live 2011! shifted its perspective, over the weekend, onto the more familiar territory of concern about humankind’s relationship with the rest of creation. In their genial 45-minute piece Putting Words In My Mouth, young Glasgow group Makeshift Broadcast explore our fundamental relationship with the food we eat, as they serve up dinner – a bowl of bean stew – to an audience of about 15 people. We sit around a square of trestle tables with the four characters – one man, three women – and watch while the bloke struggles with the news that his girlfriend is pregnant, and begins to consider the primal question of what he is going to put into his children’s mouths, as they grow, and what he is going to tell them about it.
Like any serious consideration of food culture, this short show, written and directed by Philippa Mannion, opens up rich seams of childhood memory, family history, ethical debate and political thought, even though it struggles to find language that is more than banal; and it acts as a perfect prologue to the more intense mood of Sita Preraccini’s Bird, a short 25-minute wordless piece – with a beautiful, delicate soundscape by David Pollock – in which a lone human figure in a hostile landscape forms a touching relationship with a little passing songbird, but then is driven by hunger to kill and eat it. It’s a simple idea, but Pieraccini is such a fine actor that her face and body seem to contain the whole tragedy of humanity’s double-edged relationship with nature in a single short show; and this despite levels of noise interference, from a Saturday-night Arches gig, that would have destroyed a lesser performer.
And then there’s Solar Bear’s Smokies, another wordless piece in which two feral fishwives, like grotesque ugly sisters, catch, gut and smoke herring, and then do the same for a half-drowned sailor washed up on their shore. It’s a vivid show, but a blitheringly misogynistic one; its aesthetic seems based on the reactionary idea that herring are stinky, ridiculous and horrible, and so are sexually eager women. It’s as memorable as it is unpleasant, though; and it boasts brave performances from Alison McFarlane and Hilde McKenna as the revolting sisters, and an impressive Daniel Livingstone, moving lyrically and beautifully through the role of the sailor.