If you like your Festival theatre neat, tidy and grand-looking, then it might be best to steer clear of this stormy yet subdued new work, co-created by TEAM of New York and the National Theatre of Scotland.
Star rating: ****
Set in what looks like a bleak housing-scheme pub with reinforced windows set high in the walls, and featuring a three-piece female band, this is not so much a show as a creative inquiry into various ideas about Scottish and American identity, and our shared history.
It spreads like a slow, half-controlled explosion from an initial pub conversation between two friends, Brian and Iain, played by Scottish actors Brian Ferguson and Sandy Grierson, who also co-wrote the show.
Also in the pub is an American woman called Red, played by TEAM member and fellow co-writer Jessica Almasy; and in no time, this awkward group of three is on the road north, on a mission to scatter Brian’s share of his gran’s ashes near the Highland caravan site she loved.
What follows is diffuse, fantastical and occasionally baffling, as the three bicker over the futile business of trying to “define” modern Scottish identity, act out scenes from history (their absurdist account of the Clearances will offend some), and seek to challenge a few myths; and as the action moves to Red’s part of West Virginia, heavily settled by Scots, it becomes increasingly obvious that the forces in play – ravaging landscapes and forcing out ordinary people – have as much to do with the onward march of capitalism as with any purely national story.
As a well-made play, in other words, Anything That Gives Off Light never reaches the starting blocks. But as a fierce poetic snapshot of two contemporary cultures powerfully linked by history, and both fighting their own destructive stereotypes as well as the forces of exploitation, Rachel Chavkin’s production – also co-written by Davey Anderson – carries real emotional weight; and the music – both traditional, and by New York duo the Bengsons – is fascinating throughout, delivered with tremendous panache by Annie Grace, Cat Myers and Maya Sharpe, and as moody, meditative, rowdy and disturbing as the show itself.
Until 26 August. Today 2:30pm & 7:30pm.