The Agony And The Ecstasy Of Steve Jobs, Educating Ronnie, I Tommy

The Agony And Ecstasy Of Steve Jobs
4 stars ****
Gilded Balloon Teviot (Venue 14)
Educating Ronnie
4 stars ****
Assembly George Square (Venue 3)
I, Tommy
4 stars ****
Gilded Balloon Teviot (Venue 14)

LOOK AT THE TITLES of these three shows. Each one is an intensely political piece of theatre; yet each show revolves around one named individual, not a fictional character, but a real person. It’s as if the global crisis shaking our political systems is so profound that it requires something like this; that without losing political awareness, we bring the whole process down to the nitty-gritty of individual experience and responsibility, and start again from scratch.

Mike Daisey’s monologue The Agony And The Ecstasy Of Steve Jobs is a remarkable and almost frighteningly timely piece of work, a monologue written by a fan and admirer of the legendary late leader of the Apple corporation, about his own growing misgivings over the conditions under which Apple’s beautifully-designed pieces of electronic kit are produced, mainly in the new Chinese mega-city of Shenzhen. The narrative – already seen in cities across the world, and now delivered in a new, brief one-hour version made in Scotland by adaptor Andy Arnold, director Marcus Roche, and actor Grant O’Rourke – interweaves a history of the remarkable development of Apple under Jobs’s leadership with the story of a trip Daisey made to Shenzhen, where he discovered the agony of the hundreds of thousands of workers at the vast Foxconn plant where most of our i-phones, for example, are made.

From vast factories buildings hung with nets to catch workers trying to commit suicide by jumping from the windows, to the fact that many of those working for up to 100 hours a week, in conditions that often wreck their health, are as young as, Daisey – magnificently played here by a passionately convincing O’Rourke – finds the whole story, with its fierce 21st century mix of brilliance, creativity, cruelty and suffering, just a little “too much”. Yet he remains a believer in the power of information; and when he tells us, at the end, that we will never be able to look at the Apple products around us with the same eyes again, we know that he is probably right.

In director Joe Douglas’s autobiographical monologue Educating Ronnie – presented by Scottish companies MacRobert and Utter – the character named in the title is not an icon of contemporary power and wealth, but the very opposite: a Ugandan boy so poor and vulnerable that he has to ask his British friend Joe – a lad from Stockport who met Ronnie when he spent six post-school weeks in Uganda – to send him money to get him through school and university.

Despite his own financial struggles, Joe agrees; and in just 60 minutes, his monologue, co-created with director Gareth Nicholls, explores the infinite complexity of his long-distance relationship with Ronnie, from sheer delight at Ronnie’s graduation, to the undertow of guilt, resentment, irritation, and eventual disillusion and heartbreak, when he finally learns that Ronnie has been less than honest with him. Despite its gentle manner, in other words, Douglas’s show – presented with a beautiful, quiet eloquence and ingenuity on a simple set by Lisa Sangster, with video and sound design by Tim Reid and Michael John McCarthy – is a tough piece of work, absolutely clear-eyed in its recognition that poverty does not turn poor people into saints, and in the disturbing possibility that being individually ripped off by those worse off than ourselves is perhaps the most effective action we can take, if we really care about the world’s grotesque imbalances of wealth and opportunity.

The subject of I, Tommy at the Gilded Balloon is another kind of 21st century figure altogether; perhaps Scotland’s last tragi-comic attempt, in the post-modern age, to produce an old-style political leader and hero. As the world knows, the famously fit, hansdome and perma-tanned Tommy Sheridan, the leader of the Scottish Socialist Party and, by 2003, of a group of six MSP’s in the Scottish Parliament, was brought crashing down to earth, three years later, by a series of press allegations about his private life which he insisted on denying, although they mostly turned out to be true.

Ian Pattison’s rollicking stage version of Tommy’s story, presented at the Gilded Balloon by Red Aye Productions, majors on the comedy rather than the tragedy of the Sheridan story, and reinforces the effect by casting as Tommy a stocky comedian, Des McLean, who does not attempt to capture either the genuine sexual charisma of the man himself, or his strong political intelligence.

That limitation aside, though, Pattison’s script makes a brilliant job of transforming this post-modern political tragedy into sharp popular comedy, written in a bracingly confident Glasgow vernacular, stuffed with terrific one-liners, and performed with hugely enjoyable flair by a five-strong cast. Colin McCredie of Taggart introdcues the odd serious note as Tommy’s pained ex-friend Alan McCombes; and Michelle Gallagher is in thrilling comic form as Gail Sheridan, one of Glasgow’s great shopping divas, and a force to be reckoned with, as the last hope of Scottish socialism crashes and burns in true 21st century style, finally joining the C-list celebrity circuit, in the hope of scratching a living.

Joyce McMillan
Until 27 August, 26 August, 27 August
pp. 254, 275, 288



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