Theatre reviews: Battery Park | 2.22 – A Ghost Story

Telling the story of a fictional Greenock indie band on the cusp of success, Battery Park can take a well-earned place among the very finest works of Scottish rock-gig theatre, writes Joyce McMillan

Battery Park, Tron Theatre, Glasgow ****

2.22 – A Ghost Story, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh ****

While funding wars rage around the arts in Scotland, the current theatre season continues to offer a brilliant display of what theatre can do to tell the stories of a nation – and how much more it could do, given half a chance. New touring show Battery Park – now at the Tron Theatre, after opening at the Beacon Arts Centre last weekend – is a Greenock story about two brothers growing up there in the 1990s, who find themselves launching a band that offers them a chance of escape; although they call the band Battery Park, in recognition of its deep Greenock roots.

Kim Allan plays Robyn in Battery Park. Picture: Andy McGregorKim Allan plays Robyn in Battery Park. Picture: Andy McGregor
Kim Allan plays Robyn in Battery Park. Picture: Andy McGregor

What follows – in a story told in flashback from the present day – is a classic tale of failure snatched from the jaws of success, as thoughtful brother Tommy, the band’s songwriter, and his brilliant guitarist brother Ed, first team up with their drummer friend Biffy, then recruit brilliant female singer Robin, and set off on a fast track to fame via King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut. Ed, though, is increasingly tempted by the drugs scene that comes with rock-band fame; and in the hours before a vital gig at the Barrowland, the band falls apart in a ferocious and bitter row.

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In a sense, the territory is familiar enough; but in Battery Park, prolific music theatre writer and director Andy McGregor finds a theme and setting that inspires him to some of his most thrilling work yet, and produces half a dozen superb songs, made more intense by Isla Cowan’s powerful lyrics. Co-produced by McGregor’s company Sleeping Warrior and the Beacon, the show features six ferociously powerful performances, from Chris Alexander as older Tommy, Chloe-Ann Tylor as the young woman who comes to interview him and as his 1990s love Angie, and Stuart Edgar as young Tommy, alongside Tommy McGowan, Charlie West and Kim Allan; and it takes a well-earned place among the very finest works of Scottish rock-gig theatre, from 1980s Wildcat shows, through Cora Bissett’s What Girls Are Made Of, to Underwood Lane and beyond.

At the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh, meanwhile, this week offers a glimpse of UK-wide touring theatre doing what it often does best – offering an evening of traditional edge-of-the-seat entertainment delivered with hugely professional polish and style. Danny Robins’s play is set in an old Essex house recently bought up for conversion by young yuppie couple Sam and Jenny, who have a new baby daughter. They have invited Sam’s old university friend Lauren, and her new partner Ben, round for supper; but Sam is just back from a work trip, and in his absence, Jenny has become convinced that the house is haunted, notably by the sound of a man pacing and weeping around the baby’s room at 2.22 each morning.

Much of the play is occupied by whip-smart dialogue about whether or not ghosts exist, aimed mainly at mocking Sam, who is an arrogant rationalist and unbeliever; and in many ways it offers a slightly depressing primer on how and why British popular culture is becoming ever more hostile to science, reason and expert opinion. Mostly, though, the play is just a brilliantly-structured thriller-chiller, that – on a stage regularly outlined in shrieking red – speeds from one scary moment to the next in spectacular style, and draws four perfectly-pitched performances from Nathaniel Curtis, Louisa Lytton, Joe Absolom, and Scottish star Charlene Boyd as Lauren, as well as sighs and shrieks of laughter, recognition and pure terror, from an audience thrilled to the marrow.

Battery Park is at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, until 30 September, and on tour until 29 October. Details at 2.22 – A Ghost Story is at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh until 30 September, King’s Theatre, Glasgow, 21-25 November, and His Majesty’s, Aberdeen, 27 February-2 March.