Theatre review: Suffering from Scottishness, Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh

Suffering from Scottishness, Assembly Roxy (Venue 139)
Suffering from Scottishness, Assembly Roxy (Venue 139)
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“Do you suffer from Scottishness?” asks the eager young man in the crisp shirt-and-trouser uniform of the office worker, the red tartan in his tie the only hint of his calling.

Suffering from Scottishness, Assembly Roxy * * * *

“Are you ashamed of your own culture?” The joint question is just one of six topics he’s running through with us, one of many focus groups on the potential contents of a new Scottish Citizenship Test. Are you brave (i.e. patriotic) enough to be Scottish? Are you at war with yourself? Do you speak Scottish?

He doesn’t mean English with an accent, Gaelic or Doric, but the very specific combination of “English, Scots, slang and obscure in-jokes” which finds its best expression on ‘Scottish Twitter’. An appreciation of the same will help with understanding this show, although every tourist walking the Royal Mile stocking up on shortbread, whisky and flyers is urged to come and see this for a taste of the Scotland which is most often hidden from view.

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Kevin P Gilday is an artist based in Glasgow whose work takes in poetry, theatre, film and music, and each finds a home in this impressively multi-layered piece, as presented by HighTide’s Disruption. On one level, it’s a piece of character comedy centred on an ambitious young office drone who isn’t quite self-conscious enough not to break into a rap about Scotland’s great exports, from Irn-Bru and Grand Theft Auto to tikka masala and Dolly the sheep; on the other, an attempt to move the ‘Scottishness’ conversation on from the boundless optimism of 2014’s independence referendum.

Gilday’s character appears to be having a crisis of confidence before us, first taking patriotic glee in John Smeaton famously “kicking a burning terrorist in the balls” at Glasgow Airport, then reciting a (very good) poem about “my quantum Scotland… a contradiction shaped as a landmass”, and finally digging into his own upbringing. It’s a show which attempts to hit the reset button on the drifting conversation, and address the fact that any useful nationalism must surely be built on self-doubt and a sense of clear-eyed perspective.

DAVID POLLOCK

Until 26 August

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