Theatre reviews: Guerilla | #negrophobia | The Ballad of the Apathetic Son and his Narcissistic Mother

ONE of the outstanding achievements of the much-mourned Arches venue, between 1990 and its closure in 2015, was to create a Glasgow generation from whom clubbing and going to the theatre were experiences not worlds apart, but contained within the same magical building. So it's both exciting and rewarding to find that in launching Glasgow's new Take Me Somewhere festival, billed as a 'celebratory festival of contemporary performance', former Arches director Jackie Wylie has succeeded, on its first weekend, in recreating much of that powerful, cutting-edge atmosphere at the Tramway, the first of many venues across the city that the Festival will visit over the next fortnight.
The Ballad of the Apathetic Son and his Narcissistic MotherThe Ballad of the Apathetic Son and his Narcissistic Mother
The Ballad of the Apathetic Son and his Narcissistic Mother

Guerrilla ****

#negrophobia ****

The Ballad Of The Apathetic Son And His Narcissistic Mother ****

Tramway, Glasgow

Avoidable Climbing ***

Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow

For her first international production, last Friday and Saturday evenings, Wylie chose to stage Guerrilla, by the Catalan company El Conde De Torrefiel. And although this carefully-sculpted piece of international theatre, sponsored by festivals in Brussels, Groningen and Graz, emerges as a slightly dislikable exercise in post-modern pessimism - an 80-minute “long read” of self-mockingly apocalyptic text, projected over images of life in 2019 featuring volunteer performers from Glasgow - its structure does refer directly to the role of hedonistic club-night culture in providing an escape from the relentless reality of a world facing a new age of disaster.

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So in the first scene, Guerrilla shows us an audience watching a lecture by a famously taboo-breaking theatre director: the projected text warns that “when artists start taking the piss, there’s going to be a bloodbath.” In the second scene, we watch a tai chi class; the text reflects that people are finding it increasingly hard to love one another, because “love needs a context”. And in the third, we watch a crowd of people clubbing in a disused steel-works, to a driving backbeat; the text looks down on the city, and talks about the coming “war of 2023”. In a sense, it’s barely theatre; more like a collective reading experience, of a very powerful if self-obsessed text. Yet it says what is still the unsayable, in much of everyday life; that we have let the infrastructure of our long age of peace decay, and may very soon have to live with the consequences.

Part of the symptom of that decay, of course, is the rise of fear and rage - first deliberately provoked by an increasingly brutal economic system, and then redirected against anyone who can be labelled “the other”. As the American poet and performer Jaamil Olawale Kosoko observes in his show #negrophobia - the second international performance of Take Me Somewhere’s opening weekend - the black male body has always been first in line when white culture is looking for a hate object; someone or something on whom to project whole worlds of violence, fear, suppressed desire, and strange fantasies of rape and threat.

Like Guerrilla, #negrophobia uses a club-like, dub-poetry-night format to explore its subject; Kosoko prowls the stage accompanied by gorgeous, high-stepping performance artist IMMA, who uses a mobile phone camera to create huge images of the performance, projected on a screen. He reads poetry, refers to the tragic death of his young brother, sometimes creates thrilling, disturbing sequences of physical theatre in which he veils himself in decaying white, or covers himself in gold; he takes us through the great texts on black history and the black body that he is reading, to a backing tape of mocking laughter. The text is brilliant, and essential, and sometimes sadly inaudible, given the weight of the music delivered by Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste on the music deck; but #negrophobia is an essential exploration of black glory and agony at this moment in history, and should be seen by everyone who cares about the world white men have made for us all, and its possible futures.

And it’s the task of raising a young white man to live in this world, finally, that preoccupies the fine Arches artist Lucy Gaizely, in her new show The Ballad Of The Apathetic Son And His Narcissistic Mother, created and performed with her 14-year-old son Raedie Gaizely-Gardiner. The Ballad is essentially a piece of visual and movement theatre, with some spoken text, and exquisite sound and light by Zac Scott and Michaella Fee.

So there’s reversed film of Lucy and Raedie - in twin blonde wigs like the singer Sia, whom they both love - chewing into existence little labels describing each other’s characters, while they dance and compete, wrestle and argue, imitate one another’s motherly rants and teenage grunts, and create occasional heart-stopping moments of pure beauty, where Lucy holds Raedie like the baby he once was, and then gradually moves him to her back and then her shoulders, until he walks away. Have them, love them and let them go, went the old saying about parenthood. This is a show about the loving, and the letting go; a task made all the more difficult by the sense of impending crisis explored in these opening shows, with a vividness and passion that is almost like joy.

And the same crisis receives a messy but colourful cabaret treatment on Drew Taylor’s “Somewhere New” commission for the Festival, playing at the Citizens’ Theatre Studio this weekend. Avoidable Climbing is a show about how the very worst kind of people - bullies, liars and charlatans - rise to the top in politics; it could therefore hardly be more timely, as young performer/composer/musicians Isobel McArthur and David Rankine move around a deliberately cluttered stage, playing couple after couple who have just voted for disastrous authoritarian outcomes in a range of historic and recent elections, and providing some reflection between scenes.

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Essentially, Taylor’s show - which he writes ands directs - is interesting when it focusses on the politics and allows its poetry and music to sing through, but infuriating when it indulges in bouts of would-be-cute self-reflective nonsense about who is off stage at the wrong moment, or has got his/her amplifier lead in a knot. For if there’s one thing that’s clear, from Take Me Somewhere so far, it’s that these are serious times. And while no-one expects any show about the current situation to reach a neat conclusion - and this one defies that expectation with some style - this is clearly a moment when professional performers should have something to say, and get on with saying it; rather than expecting us to care about the minor griefs and idiocies of the performance business, which were always boring, and now seem simply irrelevant.

*Take Me Somewhere continues across Glasgow until 12 March