JOYCE MCMILLAN on FEVER DREAM: SOUTHSIDE at the Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow , for The Scotsman 27.4.15.
4 stars ****
PART WORK OF GENIUS, part unforgivable shambles, Douglas Maxwell’s Fever Dream: Southside bursts onto the stage at the Citizens’ Theatre like a mighty exploding bin-bag of ideas, images and slightly battered characters. Its brilliant theme is city life, as embodied in the Southside of Glasgow, in the age of uneasy multiculturalism, alleged terrorist threats, exploitative property development, and “regeneration through culture”. And its central character is a neurotic and useless new Dad called Peter, whose sensible wife Demi has to care for the baby and him, and try to keep some constructive community politics going, while he undergoes a long-drawn-out health crisis brought on by a mixture of loud, scary street noise and the responsibilities of fatherhood.
The stage is also occupied, though, by the inhabitants of three other gradually converging storylines. There’s the mad conceptual artist Julia, increasingly convinced that she has actually been killed, while walking through Queen’s Park. There’s the would-be oligarch Raj, a Sikh community leader’s son bent on buying up the whole of the Southside at knock-down prices. And there are two (or so it seems) young Christian evangelists from the USA, who keep a raging pterodactyl called Terry in a locked room, and for whom the flashing neon Christ Died For Our Sins sign that dominates Neil Warmington’s open set – and the corner of Victoria Road, in the real Southside – seems to have been made.
Right to the end, the play – delivered with terrific energy and wit by an impressive cast of eight, and directed with a fierce, surreal flamboyance by Dominic Hill, with astonishing live music and sound by Michael John McCarthy and Guy Coletta – retains an interesting grip on its theme of how ordinary citizens need to man up, grow up, and make a serious fightback against the forces of division, delusion, fear and greed that would destroy their cities. There are moments when the script so obviously needs a good dramaturgical kicking that the play becomes agonising to watch; the mad artist is an overwritten cliche, the pterodactyl’s role in the plot is terminally confused, the play’s ending is so heavily ironic that it seems more like the dawn of a new multicultural fascism than the birth of a viable community politics. Yet the sheer vitality and timeliness of Maxwell’s ideas make all of these madnesses worth enduring; in an evening that’s often ill-judged, but also far more vivid, timely and true than a whole fistful of shows that are more tasteful, more shapely, and almost instantly forgotten.
Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, until 9 May.