JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE YES/NO PLAYS and HOW TO CHOOSE? at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, and WALLACE at the Arches, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 20.9.14. __________________________________________________________
The Yes/No Plays 5 stars *****
How To Choose? 3 stars ***
Wallace 3 stars ***
SCOTLAND’S REFERENDUM BUBBLE is well and truly burst now, lying like a crushed balloon in the gutters of the capital. While it lasted, though, it was a shining, magical thing, full of rainbow colours; and of all the words and images that emerged from it over the last two years, there has been nothing finer that David Greig’s twitter series of miniature Yes/No Plays, tiny dramatic fragments in 140 characters gathered together, this week, for two historic performances at the Traverse, on referendum day.
What’s striking about the Yes/No Plays – apart from the slightly surreal brilliance of the writing – is that although Greig is a high-profile “Yes” supporter, the plays themselves say nothing unsubtle about the referendum debate. In building up a dialogue between two voices – a live-in pair called Yes and No, played brilliantly by Frances Thorburn and Richard Clements – it has its fun at the expense of both campaigns, and dlves much deeper, into the referendum’s complex undercurrents of hope, possibility, fear, and desire.
And the plays also, perhaps surprisingly, make briliant and hilariously funny live theatre, at least when performed by a superb six-strong Traverse cast, directed by Greig himself, and deftly divided into sequences punctuated by exquisite light-touch clairsach music. This is a sad old weekend for many in Scotland; but if I had to be anywhere, during the last few hours of our great referendum dbeate, then I’m delighted to have been at the Traverse, revelling in David Greig’s wit, humanity, and absolute sympathy for all sides of the question.
How To Choose? – put together by powerful young writer-performers Davey Anderson and Gary McNair – is a much more tentative piece of work by comparison. Set on a lab-like stage full of random-looking objects, with the two performers often sitting at desks, the show features an extraordinary, complex soundscape, through which we hear the voices of a series of researchers and political analysts dedicated to exploring the reasons why we make the choices we do. The effect is strange, poignant, thought-provoking; and the conclusion is that people generally tend to make choices on a basis of emotion, and then rationalise them later – a truth which may help explain a few things, as Scotland comes to terms with Thursday’s vote.
As for Rob Drummond’s work-in-development Wallace, at the Arches – well, if there’s is a single known neurosis in the Scottish psyche not exposed and chewed over in this rambling three-act drama, then I’m not aware of it. The first act is set in a Question Time-style studio, where the Scottish political class falls apart in full public view; both here and in the bizarre historical second act, the only person in sight with any style, statecraft, or real intelligence is the representative of the British boss class, played with relish by Benny Young. Things improve a little in Act III, where our hapless hero Wallace, played by Drummond himself, begins to emerge as less of a buffoon. Even the best efforts of a an impressive cast, though, can’t transform Wallace into much more, at this stage, than a slightly alarming romp through the less confident reaches of the Scottish psyche; all we can do is to await its future development, with interest.