JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE BEAUTIFUL COSMOS OF IVOR CUTLER at the Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 12.4.14.
4 stars ****
THE JOB OF A critic is often to make connections: to point out a cultural trend here, a recurring theme there. The point about the great Glasgow-born performer, poet, song-maker and humorist Ivor Cutler, though, is that his work and persona are unique, quite unlike anything else in the known creative universe. And it speaks volumes for the sheer love and energy Matthew Lenton and his Vanishing Point team have lavished on the creation of this new touring show – co-produced by the National Theatre of Scotland – that it goes a long way towards recreating the ruthless scepticism and absolute wonder of the unique world in which Ivor lived, from his birth into a Jewish family in Ibrox in 1923, to his death in London in 2006.
The linchpin of the show is the actor and writer Sandy Grierson, who has developed the script with the company, and who plays Ivor Cutler in a hugely moving and convincing performance, not quite an impression of the man, more a kind of possession by him. Grierson is accompanied by a five-piece band, by a harmonium of the kind Ivor himself played, and by Elicia Daly as Ivor’s soulmate and fellow-poet Phyllis King, whose memories shape the script, as the action winds through the story of Ivor’s life, and through many of his most famous songs.
For myself, I think I might have preferred a show that focussed a little more on the wry, subtle energy of Cutler’s work, and a little less on the assumed pathos of his life, including his final decline into a dementia that oddly mirrored his own gift for breaking up reality; here and there James Fortune’s music surges into a lush and romantic rock riff that seems the antithesis of Ivor’s dry, low-key aesthetic.
These are tentative question-marks, though, around a two-hour show that is almost irresistible, both in the loving strength of its central performances, and in the sheer beauty of the cosmos it sometimes conjures up, thanks to exquisite set and lighting design by Kai Fischer. It isn’t – and should not be – the last word on the astonishing legacy of Ivor Cutler. Yet it places him firmly in the pantheon of great Scottish creative geniuses, to be loved, quoted, and argued over; a true rebel spirit of the postwar age, funny, inventive and unbowed, from first to last.
Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, until 19 April; Beacon Arts, Greenock, 23 April; MacRobert, Stirling, 25 April; and Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 29 April – 3 May.