Many theatre companies are currently in an extended limbo until chief
funders Creative Scotland finally decide their fate after what must
seem like an eternal wait. As 2011 has proven again and again, however,
great art – a word not used much these days – will out despite such an
on-going silence. In a year which has seen a merry-go-round of artistic
directorships at Perth, the Citizens and Traverse theatres,
cross-company collaboration has seemingly been one solution to being
able to put on big work in cash-strapped times.
If one show illustrated all of the above, it was Age of Arousal,
Stellar Quines’s magical-realist whirlwind co-produced by the Royal
Lyceum, Edinburgh right at the start of the year. Muriel Romanes’
reimagining of Quebecois writer Linda Griffiths’ play was a wildly
skew-whiff Victorian costume romp that was by turns sexy, radical,
witty and wise in a magnificent fusion of word and deed that seemed to
posit a brand new theatrical language.
Adventurousness in terms of mixing form and content has been in
abundance this year. Matthew Lenton’s Vanishing Point company proved
themselves a major international force once again with Saturday Night.
A wordless follow-up of sorts to Interiors and co-produced with Tramway
and a slew of international partners, Saturday Night was similarly seen
through a glass screen. Where Interiors was a melancholy peep-show of
everyday tragedies, however, Saturday Night lurched into more
impressionistically metaphysical waters in a magnificently languid look
at how dreams sometimes turn out.
There were elements of this too in the National Theatre of Scotland’s
breathlessly audacious revival of David Harrower’s contemporary
classic, Knives In Hens. Where before Harrower’s flint-sharp study of
how a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing for a woman discovering
herself in a backwoods rural community was seen as dryly brutal
realism, Belgian director Lies Pauwels ripped into it to create a
knicker-flashing, prat-falling cavalcade that more resembled a messy
night out with Bonnie and Clyde than anything, yet still retained the
unfettered erotic essence at the play’s heart.
If Knives in Hens wasn’t for the purists, then neither was Andrew
O’Hagan’s collaboration with director John Tiffany in a dramatisation
of O’Hagan’s still astonishing social memoir, The Missing. Flitting
between Glasgow, Ayrshire, a London where runaways disappear between
the cracks and a Gloucester haunted by the spectre of serial killers
Fred and Rose West, The Missing became a remarkable meditation on the
loss of self as much as others. Such a beauteous and fragile reading
didn’t fit in with the agendas of some sentimental nationalists,
however, which was their loss.
Ideas were in abundance throughout 2011, especially at the Traverse,
which outgoing artistic director Dominic Hill left towards the end of
the year to run the Citizens. In his wake, Stewart Laing’s Untitled
Projects presented The Salon Project, in which audiences all dressed up
in period finery entered a deliciously rarefied environment to
effectively become the show, learning a thing or two as they went.
There were ideas too in Pass The Spoon, artist David Shrigley’s
collaboration with composer David Fennessy and Magnetic North director
Nicholas Bone. Granted the ideas in this cartoon-like opera involving
giant bananas and suchlike were pricelessly daft, but they still made
for a grand night of toilet humour in excelcis.
Beyond such silliness, some more traditionally-minded and well-built
work was seen on the nation’s bigger stages. These included NTS
revivals of Ena Lamont Stewart’s Men Should Weep and David Greig’s more
recent sequel to Macbeth, Dunsinane. There was also a long overdue
showing of Peter Nichols’ A Day in the Death of Joe Egg at the Citz, a
tour of Tom McGrath’s The Hardman, and a fine Twelfth Night at Perth
from incoming artistic director Rachel O’Riordan. Her production
managed to give Shakespeare a melancholic Chekhovian air in her
captivating debut show for the theatre.
Yet somehow, it was the smaller shows that really mattered in2011, with
the the two most significant presented by the NTS. Molly Taylor’s Love
Letters To The Public Transport System was advertised as a
work-in-progress, but this heart-warming paean to the accidental
arbiters of life’s most important day-trips was anything but. The
absolute show of the year, though, was David Greig’s The Strange
Undoing of Prudencia Hart, a bawdily post-modern reinvention of border
balladeering via karaoke nights and Kylie. Written in rhyme complete
with a raucous musical score that lends itself to the pub venues it
played in, Prudencia’s plight is a force of nature worth selling your
The Herald, December 26th 2011