Theatre review: Dear Europe, SWG3, Glasgow

Cadaver Police in Quest of Aquatraz Exit by Alan McKendrick PIC: John Devlin
Cadaver Police in Quest of Aquatraz Exit by Alan McKendrick PIC: John Devlin
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ON FRIDAY night – in the hours leading up to 11pm – an audience of several hundred gathered at the SWG3 warehouse nightclub in Glasgow to take part in the National Theatre of Scotland’s Dear Europe, an evening designed to mark the moment when Britain was to have left the European Union.

Dear Europe, SWG3, Glasgow ****

The atmosphere – in a huge hall of long trestle tables surrounded by screens and stages – was one of relief and anticlimax laced with foreboding, as the NTS’s master of ceremonies Gary McNair began to roll out a series of acts commissioned by artistic director Jackie Wylie and associate artist Stewart Laing from Scottish and international artists who, it’s safe to say, almost all tend to side with Scotland’s pro-EU majority.

The evening began on a generally sceptical and absurdist note, as iconic actor-performer Tam Dean Burn – along with musician Rachel Newton – rose up to deliver Aquaculture Flagshipwreck, a vivid 20 minute sequence of piratical musings, with visual images by Tom Morgan-Jones, on lice-ridden Norwegian-owned fish-farms and the evils of flag-waving nationalism. Next up was a brief and intense piece of physical theatre by Nic Green and Ruairi O’Donnabhainn called A Good Start Is Half The Work, in which O’Donnabhainn and co-performer Louise Ahl demonstrated with excruciating clarity how hard it is to put your weight on something that is split down the middle.

Neither piece could complete in sheer scale, energy or emotion, though, with Leonie Ray Gasson’s thrilling first-half finale Death Becomes Us, in which a community chorus of women and non-binary European migrants wove their way around the hall delivering a long song of loss, protest and defiance, to the fantastic sound of Glasgow singer-composer Heir of the Cursed, who presided over the event in dazzling silver robes.

The upswing in intensity continued through the show’s second half, which opened with Nima Sene and Daniel Hughes’s fine film-with-songs Moving Through Shadows, about the multiple layers of black experience in Europe, followed by Alan McKendrick’s wild, anarchic theatrical band Cadaver Police took to the stage with a brilliantly sustained satirical poem-with-percussion envisaging Brexit Britain as Aquatraz, an island fortress-prison bereft even of bands.

And the evening moved to a magnificent and sombre conclusion with Angus Farquhar’s Second Citizen, the tale of his family’s relationship with Europe through two world wars, his own relationship with it through the work of his great 1980s band Test Department, and his efforts to retain his European citizenship by asking Ireland and Germany to adopt him.

Then at the close, in a final act of mourning and resolve that brought the audience to their feet, Farquhar and his colleagues Cameron Sinclair and Scott Twynholm turned to their marimbas, and began to beat out once again that great post-punk music of defiance against all the borders that once divided Europe; and now seem set, alas, to divide it again. - Joyce McMillan