JOYCE MCMILLAN on TRUANT at Penilee Community Centre, Glasgow, KIN at Cumbernauld Theatre, and THE MURDER OF GEOFFREY ROBBINS at Oran Mor, Glasgow, for Scotsman Arts, 10.11.11.
Truant 4 stars ****
Kin 4 stars ****
The Murder Of Geoffrey Robbins 1 star *
ONE of the characteristics of the National Theatre of Scotland, under Vicky Featherstone’s leadership, is that it likes to explore the boundaries of theatrical experience, as well as staging more conventional shows. In the last two years, for example, I’ve seen the company venture to the SECC to challenge the distinction between full-blown theatre and a wall-of-death ride, and transform a soon-to-be demolished community centre in Aberdeen into a riot of teenage creativity, immersing the audience in a whole evening of extreme experience.
The company’s latest project, Truant, is on a much smaller scale than either of those shows; at one level, it’s just a classic piece of touring theatre for young people, playing at a dozen schools and community centres around Glasgow. Yet the nature of the performance itself, and the structure of an event which is tightly linked to a post-show discussion session, means that this show opens up a powerful debate about the importance of public space and debate in creating a sense of community, and supporting families in difficulties.
The show, created by writer/director John Retallack of Company Of Angels with a high-powered production team and a cast of eight, consists of a series of scenes featuring young people in rebellion and not attending school, linked by well-researched real-life comments from people around Glasgow. There’s the boy who goes shoplifting in the local mall in a desperate bid for attention. There’s the girl who can’t stop her party-loving single Mum from embarrassing her by spending her eveings at teenage clubs. There’s the boy on drugs who can no longer speak to his cowed parents without shrieking obscenities at them, while the family is not helped by a clock-watching social worker. And there’s the young carer, burdened by a level of premature responsibility most of us can barely imagine.
All of this is performed with terrific flair and commitment by Retallack’s cast, including Michelle Gallagher, Ross Allan, Hannah Donaldson and Fiona Wood; and it’s woven into a one-hour show which features fine music and sound by Michael John McCarthy, and some beautiful movement sequences by Janice Parker, bringing to life the ambivalent mix of aggression and love in the relationship between parents and troubled teenagers.
And then there’s the post-show discussion, moderated by Mari Binnie, in which – last Thursday night – the people of Penilee played a starring role, full of wit and wisdom about the almost impossible dilemmas that sometimes confront the parents of rebellious teenagers. The conclusion was that parents have lost many of the traditional structures – nearby extended families, church, boys’ brigade – that once used to support them in getting their kids through stormy teenage times; and that something – perhaps including this kind of visit from the NTS – needs to replace those lost centres of community. “This, what we’re having now,” said one member of the audience, “this is the conversation people need. And if you can take this kind of event to more places, more often, then maybe people will find the answers for themselves.”
Donna Rutherford’s Kin, briefly at the Traverse this weekend, is another show that relates closely to the raw stuff of real life, in exploring the changing relationship between middle-aged children and their ageing parents. Based around a handful of video interviews with people in their forties and fifties,and their parents, the show is set on a dark stage furnished with three domestic-sized television screens; and in front of them, three little tables on which Rutherford has assembled some of the domestic stuff that looms so large, in caring for those approaching the end of life – the tea, the coffee, the little slice of toast or scone and jam – along with three beautiful hour-glasses, marking the passage of the 55 minutes that the show takes to perform.
Punctuated by Rutherford’s own live commentary on the theme in hand, as she sips the tea and eats the toast, the show is as gentle and caring an exploration of a difficult subject as can be imagined. And the strange thing is that its very gentleness, combined with its visual richness, gradually unleashes a terrific depth of emotion, as we in the audienceface the fact that none of us will avoid the quiet and sometimes heartbreaking domestic truths explored here; either as adults caring for our elderly relatives, or – one day – as those elderly people ourselves, desperate not to be a burden to those still living their lives, yet knowing that their willingness to care for us, and the love that often shines through that care, is the very stuff of life itself.
Meanwhile, if you want to avoid anything remotely connected with real life, there’s always John and Gerry Kielty’s new show in the Play, Pie and Pint lunchtime season. In The Murder Of Geoffrey Robbins, One and Other are two camp, compulsively tidy types in silk dressing gowns – think a gay Arsenic And Old Lace – who appear to have done away with Geoffrey, their irritatingly normal flatmate; but as an ill-fated police inspector investigates the crime scene, it becomes apparent that all is not as it seems.
Any member of the audience with a pulse can grasp this central joke in the first two minutes of the action; and all that remains, thereafter, is an interminable three-quarters of an hour of lame and repetitive schoolboy jokery, enlivened only by some vaguely imaginative use of live and recorded music (cue the theme from Psycho), and a spectacular waste of the considerable talents of all three performers, including George Drennan, as the policeman. The joy of Play, Pie and Pint, though, is that no matter how bad things get, we can always look forward to next week; and to better luck, next time.
Truant on tour around Glasgow until 19 November, including Scottish Youth Theatre, Glasgow, 17-19 November. Kin at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, until 12 November, and at Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, 15 November. The Murder of Geoffrey Robbins at Oran Mor until Saturday.