Daily Archives: September 12, 2015

Theatre With A Purpose – Threat, Opportunity, Or Both?

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on THEATRE WITH A PURPOSE – THREAT, OPPORTUNITY OR BOTH? for the Scotsman Magazine, 12.9.15.
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THE FIRST WEEK of September, and a friend asks me what’s on my post-Festival schedule. She glazes over a bit as I talk about the beginning of the new lunchtime season at Oran Mor, and about Rapture Theatre’s new production of All My Sons, one of the greatest plays of the 20th century.

She begins to look more animated, though, when I talk about a new show by Solar Bear, Scotland’s theatre company specialising in work aimed at both deaf and hearing audiences, including children. Because here’s something, after all, that any compassionate, engaged citizen can immediately relate to; a theatre company doing something obviously useful to society, linking itself to a generally acknowledged good cause, and not just pursuing the ephemeral and difficult notion of artistic achievement, beauty and truth.

As it turns out, of course, Solar Bear’s new show Kind Of Silence does both at once, in impressive style; it’s a beautiful, exquisitely crafted show. Yet i’m still brooding on the growing need for shows and companies to claim this kind of “useful” function, as the brochures arrive for two more arts festivals with powerful health-related themes: Scotland’s Creative Ageing Festival, Luminate, which runs throughout October, and the increasingly impressive Scottish Mental Health Arts And Film Festival (SMHAFF), which runs this year from 10-31 October.

Once again, there’s no question that both festivals will contain work of tremendous quality. In Edinburgh alone, Luminate is providing a platform for more than 30 events across half-a-dozen art-forms, ranging from new Lung Ha’s show Thingummy Bob, by award-winning writer Linda McLean, to a debate with the Royal Lyceum’s Waiting For Godot stars, Brian Cox and Bill Paterson, about the portrayal of ageing on stage.

And SMHAFF, which always reflects one of the great central themes of art and performance through the ages, brings together a new Vision Mechanics show, In Her Shadow, directed by National Theatre of Scotland associate Cora Bissett, and Rapture Theatre’s second Arthur Miller play of the autumn, The Last Yankee, which deals with the impact of depression, alongside more than 300 other events across Scotland.

Yet for all the sheer power and quality of these events, I still can’t help feeling a vague twinge of unease at the growing need for arts projects to label themselves in this utilitarian and easily-legible way. At the moment, after all, the main creative excitement in Scottish theatre is rippling around the great Citizens’ Theatre/Edinburgh International Festival stage version of Alasdair’s Gray’s Lanark, now playing in Glasgow, and John McGrath’s 1973 ceilidh masterpiece The Cheviot, The Stag And The Black, Black Oil, about to open at Dundee.

And what’s clear about those two great works is that they utterly defy any officially-approved idea of “usefulness”: the Cheviot because it is an explicitly radical piece of agitprop that seeks to put a metaphorical bomb under existing power-structures, and Lanark because its roots and purposes are far too vast and mysterious, even to its own author, ever to be summed up in any such obvious way.

It’s striking, after all, that both Luminate and SMHAFF are often at their best when they are at their angriest, raging against the official neglect and general prejudice that darkens the lives of vulnerable people everywhere. And it’s also worth remembering that great art finally tends to speak to us not because we belong to some particular interest-group, but because we are human, bound up in the big story of humanity that sings through a novel like Lanark; and it’s a lazy culture, and a lazy funding-system, that ever loses sight of that truth, and begins to use obvious utility as a criterion for interest and support, instead of striving to recognise the deep and often unnameable undercurrents of creative energy that power the greatest work, whatever its theme.

Solar Bear’s Kind Of Silence on tour to Aberdeen, Ayr, Greenock and Glasgow, until 24 September. Luminate opens across Scotland on 1 October, and SMHAFF on 10 October.

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The Quiet Land

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE QUIET LAND at Oran Mor, Glasgow, for The Scotsman, 12.9.15.
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4 stars ****

WHEN DAVID MACLENNAN launched A Play, A Pie, And A Pint, 11 years ago, the first international connection he struck up was with Bewlay’s Cafe Theatre in Dublin; and now here, in Malachy  McKenna’s The Quiet Land, is the latest fruit of that relationship, a show about as far from the cutting-edge of 21st century Irish theatre as it could possibly be, and yet full of a deep seductive charm, and a quiet sense of mourning for lost times.

So as the play opens, we see one of the classic scenes of Irish drama; a field, a broken gate, an old man in a battered, mossy hat, a faint trill of traditional pipe-music in the distance.  The man is Nashee, an old farmer; but as soon as he’s joined by his equally ancient friend and neighbour Eamonn, it becomes clear that this is a very contemporary tale of what happens to the land, and the people who used to farm it, in an age when only cash matters.

Eamonn is just back from a month in hospital after being beaten up by a gang of burglars, a wonderful, spirited old man determined to get his mobility back and battle on; but Nashee, left alone on the hill, has lost his nerve, and decided to give up the fight.  The scenario is simple enough, and Nashee’s reticence about what’s going on a little overplayed.  But Des Keoch and Derry Power deliver a glorious, perfectly-pitched pair of performances in a show seems to promise little, but finally deliver a picture of the world we live in that is sharp, teling, surprisingly complete, and very troubling indeed.

Oran Mor, Glasgow, final performance today.

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Papermoon – Mwathirika

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on PAPERMOON PUPPET THEATRE – MWATHIRIKA at THE CCA, Glasgow, for The Scotsman, 12.9.15.
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4 stars ****

STAGED AS part of a rich week-long festival of Indonesian arts curated by the Glasgow-based Cryptic company, Papermoon Puppet Theatre’s Mwathirika shook its audiences at the CCA this week with the sheer force and bleakness of its political vision, delivered through the puppet-drama of 10 year-old Moyo and his little sister Tupu, who is only four, and a little bit spoiled by her doting Dad and older brother.

Their bright, light-touch family story is unfolding, though, against a backdrop of political turmoil, conveyed throught powerful filmed sequences featuring images of machine-like chaos, and through the use of the colour red – a red balloon, red flags, a fatal triangle of red paint daubed on the house. And as Dad is marched away – and the neighbours shrink in fear, terrified to help the abandoned children – Mwathirika (the word mean victim) develops into a devastatingly angry and sorrowful drama about the terrible suffering of the half million who were victims of the country’s great anti-communist purge of 1965-66.

There’s something undeniably rough about the storytelling in Mwathirika, as if the pain of the subject had somehow overwhelmed director Maria Tri Sulistyani and her company; there are long fades to black between scenes, the pace is often very slow, and the ending is so sudden that its meaning almost escapes us. The impact of the show is immense, though; and it suggests that we need to see more of this passionate, questioning Indonesian theatre in Scotland, as soon as possible.

Run completed. Discover Indonesia continues at the CCA and across Glasgow until 13 September.

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