44 Stories & Blood Lines, One Man Two Guvnors

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on 44 STORIES and BLOOD LINES at the Arches, Glasgow, and ONE MAN TWO GUVNORS at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman, 5.7.14.
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44 Stories/Blood Lines 4 stars ****
One Man Two Guvnors 4 stars ****

IF YOU IMAGINED that the cultural programme surrounding the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow would be all happy celebration and spectacular dance displays, think again. At the Arches at least, 2014 is an occasion for fierce and self-searching reflection, embodied in this brave, vivid and sometimes mind-blowing double-bill by Arches artists Drew Taylor and Lou Prendergast.

Taylor’s show, 44 Stories, goes straight to the heart of one of the contradictions of the Commonwealth, by highlighting the fact that in 44 of the countries competing in this year’s Games, homosexuality remains illegal, and punishable by imprisonment or even death. In a bold, loud and often furiously camp 75 minutes, Taylor’s inspired cast – Katie Armstrong, Olivia Knowles, Tom Jackson-Greaves and Bugg Vincent – tell the stories of dozens of individuals and organisations, across the Commonwealth, who have struggled for gay rights and paid a price for their courage; the show also makes a brave attempt at analysing how the conventional, patriarchal attitudes that came with Empire often snuffed out much more subtle traditional appraoches to sexual ambiguity.

In the meantime, though, the show also sings, jokes, and dances up an explosively-choreographed storm. And the effect is sometimes confused, but always fascinating; a thrilling mix of burlesque, cabaret and agitprop that deserves to be seen again, and soon.

The show comes in a double-bill with Lou Prendergast’s Blood Lines, a slightly hesitant but searingly important and timely show in which Predergast tells the story of her Dad, a tremendously smart charmer called Harry Prendergast, who arrived in Britain from Jamaica in the 1960’s, and soon came north to Glasgow, to run a drugs-and-prostitution racket there. Lou, her sister, and her mother came too; and now Lou and her sister Sophie tell the tale, along with a ska band featuring two black Scottish musicians with their own story to tell, and their uncle, brother to their mother, “the hippy”.

It’s a complex tale, full of deep resonances that bind Scotland’s great Atlantic city to the story of the Caribbean, and to the slave trade that scarred its history. On the floor, there’s a map of Jamaica, full of Scottish place names; one one side, there’s a glowing blue Mercedes, symbol of the Sixties lifestyle Harry yearned for, and often achieved. And if the presentation of the show is sometimes a little less than smooth, its subject could hardly be more important to the city of Glasgow, as it learns to live with the truth about the imperial trade on which its fortunes were founded.

Oddly enough, it’s easy to imagine Harry Prendergast fitting right into place as a character in Nicholas Hytner’s legendary National Theatre production of One Man Two Guvnors, which briefly revisits Glasgow this week. Based on the Carlo Goldoni classic A Servant Of Two Masters, this version is set by playwright Richard Bean – author of this week’s instant NT play about the phone-hacking scandal – in a 1960’s Brighton full of flash harries, small-time gangsters and slumming princesses. The show has now lost its inspired star James Corden, who created the role of cash-strapped minder and dogsbody Francis Henshall, but gained a more-than-decent replacement in Gavin Spokes. And if the comedy seems a shade more heavy-footed this time round, this remains a superb blend of classic comedy and pure English panto, driven from start to finish by brilliant on-stage skiffle band The Craze, who help to capture that special rock-and-roll moment just before the Beatles came along, and changed everything, for good.

44 Stories and Blood Lines seen on 3 July.
One Man Two Guvnors seen on 30 June.

ENDS ENDS

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