JOYCE MCMILLAN on PAUL BRIGHT’S CONFESSIONS OF A JUSTIFIED SINNER at the Tramway, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 19.6.13.
4 stars ****
IT’S THE FAMOUS final line of the journal of Robert Wringhim, the tortured hero of James Hogg’s great 1824 novel The Private Memoirs And Confessions Of A Justified Sinner. “Cursed be he who trieth to alter or amend this little book”, it says; and Hogg’s masterpiece has certainly proved an unforgiving master to generations of theatre people who have tried to make a play of it.
As the leading mischief-making genius of current Scottish theatre, though, Stewart Laing of Untitled Projects neatly sidesteps the curse. With writer Pamela Carter, actor George Anton, and a team of sound and visual artists, he creates a two-hour illustrated lecture whose ostensible subject is not Hogg’s great and chilling enlightenment story about fundamentalist religious faith and the horrific psychological splitting it can cause, but instead the real or imaginary creative trials of director called Paul Bright, who, in the late 1980’s, allegedly tried to create a site-specific six-part version of Hogg’s novel in locations across Scotland, from Arthur’s Seat to Traquair House.
There are times when the show drifts towards the status of an extended in-joke about the Scottish theatre scene in the 1980’s and today, featuring live interviews with key figures like Annie Griffin and Giles Havergal. At it best, though – in the troubled heights of Anton’s performance, in its rich layers of narrative self-reflection, and in the show’s brilliantly-reconstructed collages of sound, film, visual images, and an entire archive exhibition – Laing and Carter’s work achieves a thrllling poetic intensity; and touches on something wild and self-destructive in Scotland, and in the human spirit, that links the story of the haunted Robert Wringhim to that of Paul Bright, driven by his own demons all the way to the snow-blasted Borders summit where the two stories seem to rest together, at last.