JOYCE MCMILLAN on MY FRIEND SELMA at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 17.6.13.
3 stars ***
THERE’S A NEW wave of installation theatre sweeping Scotland at the moment, from the National Theatre of Scotland’s recent Ignition Project in Shetland, to this week’s major premiere of Paul Bright’s Confessions Of A Justified Sinner, at the Tramway. The idea is to invite the audience to spend some of their time time wandering around an exhibition, installation or archive that complements or enriches the live performance; and I’ve rarely seen the technique used to simpler or more powerful effect than in Victoria Beesley’s My Friend Selma, an exploratory work-in-progress appearing as part of Scottish Refugee Week, which may, over the next year, become a fully-fledged children’s theatre show.
The point of the show is to revisit the moment, 21 years ago now, when Yugoslavia was torn apart by the most savage European conflict since the Second World War; and when Beesley’s father decided not only to launch a Leeds-based charity to help refugees, but to move his whole family into Springfield, an old Leeds hospital building which had been designated as a temporary home for several dozen refugee families. When Beesley invites us onstage to visit her archive-installation, we begin to gain a sense of the trauma the families had lived through, from terrifying, fear-filled bus journeys across Europe, to the single 1990’s-style payphone through which they tried desperately to remain in touch with their families back home.
What makes Beesley’s story special, though, is her sense of the huge resilience of the Springfield children, who tended – so long as they were with their parents – to see the whole experience as an adventure. And whether My Friend Selma eventually makes a memorable children’s show or not, it has already, in its present tentative form, created that unforgettable image – an image of the exuberant life-force of children, facing down a terrible war that scarred and darkened the face of Europe, in the first years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.