JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE ROOM IN THE ELEPHANT at Oran Mor, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 11.9.12
4 stars ****
IF LOS ANGELES is still the factory of dreams in which the western world invents the stories it needs, then the hero of the latest lunchtime show at Oran Mor seems like one of the sweepings on the factory floor. He arrives on stage pushing a supermarket trolley piled high with everything he owns; he is, in his own word, a “bum”, mainly resident in a cave up towards Beverley Hills.
He has, though, known slightly better times; and as he pins up a sheet, and draws a jaggy narrative outline of his changing fortunes on it, we are slowly drawn into a story that is self-consciously unreliable, but that speaks volumes – true or false – about this middle-aged hobo’s yearning to be part of the grand narrative of American culture, as told in Hollywood.
Based on a real-life incident that took place lat year, the story told is of an old abandoned water-tank in an uptown canyon that becomes home, and of the moment, 17 years later, when – thanks to an intervention by British artist Banksy – this home becomes a work of art, and is therefore lost; then of our hero’s brave attempt to seize back control of his own story, with the help of a little video camera.
Sometimes, Tom Wainwright’s ambitious, shape-changing monologue – with its bursts of sudden poetry, and its dense mesh of cultural references – almost collapses under the weight of its own meta-narratives. Yet Gary Beadle’s superbly wise, generous and vulnerable performance holds the show together, winning a roar of applause from the Oran Mor audience. And by the end, it becomes clear that Wainwright has written a vital piece of 21st centrury drama, about who gets to hold the camera, to define what is art, and to shape the stories we hear; and whose life finally counts, as any kind of story at all.