Theatre review: Resurrecting Bobby Awl, Summerhall, Edinburgh

Written by sculptor, poet, novelist, film maker and performance artist Brian Catling - best known to some for his Vorrh trilogy of  fantasy novels - Resurrecting Bobby Awl is billed as a combination of theatre and sculpture, although in fact it contains little of either.

Resurrecting Bobby Awl, Summerhall (Venue 26)

Resurrecting Bobby Awl, Summerhall, Edinburgh * *

The show is inspired by the fact that somewhere in the bowels of Surgeon’s Hall, Edinburgh retains a plaster cast of the skull of Bobby Awl, a famous street character of the city in the early 19th century; and it features both a plaster skull, and a version of the large boot in which the severely deformed Bobby was kept as a baby, after his mother abandoned him.

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It is hard, however, to imagine how his story could be worse told than in Josh Roche’s production for Avalon and BBC Arts, in which three female performers only one of whom can manage a Scottish accent deliver a garbled semi-verse account of Awl’s life told without empathy, resonance, or any sense of context. There’s a strange and intriguing theme, here, about the brutal bullying of disabled people that characterised our culture until very recently, and about the strategies Awl used to survive; but the combined effect of Catling’s script and this production is of a theatre event that can barely feign any interest in its own subject, far less in the complex post-Enlightenment Edinburgh from which Awl’s story emerged.

Until 25 August

Joyce McMillan