Theatre reviews: Camino, Oran Mor, Glasgow | Whatever Happened To The Jaggy Nettles? Scottish Youth Theatre, Glasgow

ALMOST spring and with its usual panache, A Play, A Pie And A Pint at Oran Mor launches a new season of 16 plays – mostly brand new – and four yet-to-be-announced summer mini-musicals.

Four fine performances from Lewis Howden, Keith Fleming, Irene Allen and Kim Gerard as they keep the comedy coming
Four fine performances from Lewis Howden, Keith Fleming, Irene Allen and Kim Gerard as they keep the comedy coming

Camino, Oran Mor, Glasgow **** | Whatever Happened To The Jaggy Nettles? Scottish Youth Theatre, Glasgow ****

Eight of the plays – from late March to late May – will transfer to the Traverse in Edinburgh; but for now, it’s a short and simple Oran Mor run for Sean Hardie’s new comedy Camino, set on the pilgrim’s way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

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Expect no stunning Pyrenean vistas or searching explorations of Galician culture, though; for Camino is essentially a Scottish domestic sitcom, set in the series of simple hostel rooms that are shared, for the duration of the walk, by two Scottish couples. Ken and Mo are a ferociously warring pair on the brink of divorce, unable even to agree about how they ended up on this trip. Helen and Donald, by contrast, are a cloyingly affectionate and infuriatingly cheerful middle-aged couple in identical fleeces and serious walking gear; but as the journey unfolds, it soon emerges that they, too, have their secrets and oddities, in the complex performance of togetherness that underpins every marriage.

The main problem with Hardie’s 60-minute play is that it’s really functioning in the wrong format: having set up this situation, Hardie probably needs a six-part television comedy series to explore its full comic potential. Yet Ron Bain’s production offers four performances to relish, from Keith Fleming and Kim Gerard as Ken and Mo, Irene Allen and Lewis Howden as Helen and Donald; and if they all look slightly as if they’re auditioning for an even bigger audience than can squeeze into a packed Oran Mor – well, that’s not a bad thing, when the results are as slick, professional and enjoyable as this.

Slickness is not the aim, though, in Whatever Happened To The Jaggy Nettles?, the first-ever show from the Citizens’ Theatre’s new WAC (“We Are Citizens”) ensemble of young performers with experience of the care system. Set in Glasgow in 1978, the show tries instead to do just the reverse, conjuring up that wild moment when the spirit of punk first hit grubby post-industrial Glasgow, and every skint kid living on benefits suddenly felt the urge to grab a guitar, join a band, and start yelling out their frustration in a style as raw as the aesthetic of Bill Forsyth’s film That Sinking Feeling, one of the sources that inspired the show.

So with a script by the Citizens’ Martin Traverse, excellent music by Michael John McCarthy, and scuzzily versatile practice-room design by Neil Haynes, the eight-strong young company – with actors Martin Docherty and Helen McAlpine – throw themselves furiously into the role of young Glasgow punk band The Jaggy Nettles, struggling to find time to rehearse, play the odd gig, and steal enough stuff to make their performances work. Star of the show is Kathleen “PK” Kelly (a brilliant Shannon Lynch), whose rock-queen style is slightly cramped by her day-job in her Dad’s funeral parlour, but whose blinding ambition makes her more than willing to shove the rest of the band under a bus to secure a recording contract from smooth-talking A&R man Jonny Silver, an excellent Allan Othieno.

The rest of the band, though, also blaze with personality, from Genna Allan’s stunning lead guitarist “Bonnie Ann” Clyde, to struggling bassist Mark “Kunti” Conti (Kieran McKenzie), whose violent dad has left him with enough scars to fuel a dozen punk anthems. This show marks the Citizens’ swansong of director Guy Hollands, the theatre’s associate director for Learning since 2012, and before that joint artistic director with Jeremy Raison. And it’s a mark of his outstanding achievement, in the Citizens’ work with young people and communities around Glasgow, that his final show should signal the beginning of yet another exciting new adventure in community involvement, as The Jaggy Nettles roar out their defiant determination that whatever the future holds, they will implode in style, and with an unforgettable banshee yell.