Men and women should live together in harmony, even in love; but as the old, unequal terms of engagement between the sexes become ever more unacceptable, that sense of harmony grows more elusive, and is often replaced by a terrible rage.
The central character in Julia Taudevin’s astonishing stage poem Blow Off – a mighty one-hour torrent of words, songs and music, performed by Taudevin with a three-piece female band led by the remarkable Kim Moore – is a woman for whom rage against the system, its violence, machismo and arrogance, has hardened into a cold determination to commit an act of destruction, to make a cataclysmic final gesture.
Blow Off ****
A Steady Rain ****
Tron Theatre, Glasgow
In a sung and spoken narrative addressed straight to the audience, Taudevin therefore challenges us with the story of how this woman walks, in the early hours of one morning, towards the gleaming office tower where she works as a successful executive, intent on destruction. A little in the style of performance poet Kate Tempest – but with more song, since Taudevin is a terrific singer – Blow Off simply takes us into the beating mind of someone whose rage against the way we live now has reached breaking-point; lighting by Simon Wilkinson and co-direction by Graham Eatough help drive the performance. And whether we finally take it as a warning, a celebration, or a mighty, magnificent rap striking sparks of poetry at every breath, it is one of the most memorable shows of the year, passionately written, and magnificently performed.
In Keith Huff’s A Steady Rain, by contrast, the rage is all male, and beats mainly in the heart of Denny, a Chicago cop at the end of his tether, after a local pimp and dealer fires a Magnum 44 through the window of his home, seriously injuring his toddler son. A television writer and producer whose past credits include Mad Men and American Crime, Huff presents the story of A Steady Rain almost like a pitch for a classic American urban noir film, delivered straight to the audience by Denny, and – above all – by his partner, friend and colleague Joey, whose more subtle and nuanced form of masculinity gradually begins to supplant Denny’s traditional machismo in every area that matters to him, from 21st century policing, to the heart of his marriage and family.
Mary McCluskey’s fine production for Theatre Jezebel, at the Tron, does little to challenge the essentially static quality of the script;
and despite a restrained, atmospheric set by Kenny Miller, Mark Hughes’s lighting design involves so much peering at a single speaker in the dark that the concentration can waver. In the end, though, there’s no gainsaying the sheer power of Huff’s insight into the tragedy of an old, tribal, casually racist and often violent masculinity that no longer works in our times, and its persistence, even in those who think they have moved beyond it; and Andy Clark and Robert Jack are simply superb in the roles of Denny and Joey, subtle, vulnerable, and ragingly human, bound together in love, and yet finally unable to survive together, in a world drenched by great tides of change.
*Blow Off at Dundee Rep tomorrow, and at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh,12-13 October. A Steady Rain at the Tron Theatre, until 24 September.