IN THE LAST week, Scottish theatre has seen three fine shows marking the centenary of the 1918 Armistice; and significantly, two of them – Morag Fullarton’s lunchtime play The Last Picture Show, which ends its Traverse run today, and this powerful touring installation by the London-based group Sound & Fury – dig deep enough into the experience of that war to begin to understand the extraordinary role played by Charlie Chaplin, and his early comedy films, in entertaining people who had just come from, or were about to return to, the hell of the trenches.
Perth Theatre **** | Oran Mor, Glasgow **** | Paisley Town Hall ****
Presented in parallel with the superb NTS/Perth Theatre show The 306: Dusk, now playing in the main theatre, Charlie Ward is a brief but immeasurably vivid 16-minute experience, in which ten audience members at a time enter a darkened Joan Knight Studio containing a cleaned-up version of a tented field hospital. We each lie on a simple hospital bed, the smell of carbolic in our nostrils; then, as the nightlights dim, we see projected on the canvas ceiling an old 1915 Chaplin film called By The Sea, in which he fights with another man in a raging wind, and ends up pinioned to a beach post that looks oddly like a crucifix.
Meanwhile, we hear a soundtrack of the childhood memories of a soldier called Harry, who is perhaps lying dying in a bed like ours. And although this is a short and in some ways simple experience, it seems –by putting us in the same physical position as those wounded and dying soldiers – to reach deep into our minds, and briefly cancel out time, in an eternal moment of grief, memory and tragi-comic genius.
At Oran Mor, meanwhile, the autumn Play, Pie And Pint season moves on to an almost frighteningly powerful debut from Glasgow-based PhD student David Gerow. A Change In Management is set in the office of a large Edinburgh warehouse, where the manager -– a portly and bumbling family man called Billy, brilliantly played by Steven McNicoll–- presides over two sharp-witted young assistant managers, Mary and Lydia (Helen McKay and Nicola Roy, in prime form). Gerow plunges us straight into the heart of the drama, as Lydia arrives early one morning to find an email from a woman in England alleging that one of the warehouse workers is a paedophile, who assaulted her young son. Billy and Mary are inclined to take a measured approach to the situation; but Lydia flies into full-blown “I have a daughter” mode, and takes matters into her own hands, with devastating results for at least four people, although not for herself.
A Change In Management is often a very funny play, with quick-fire dialogue that fully exposes the world’s new and often awkward heightened sensitivity to all accusations of sexual misconduct. What it suggests, though, is that the growing tendency to judge first and find out the facts later can truly devastate lives; and that events in a small suburban office can perfectly mirror our increasing slide from a rule-governed world system, to one where those with the angriest and most self-righteous voices tend to prevail, whether right or not.
Some of the young people of Paisley, though, seem to be more concerned that we may be entering a world where there are rules, but they are made without our knowledge or consent. Staged as part of this month’s huge National Theatre of Scotland FutureProof festival, Do’s And Don’ts – co-created with the thrilling Berlin-based group Rimini Protokoll – is the Paisley version of a show that involves an audience of 30 or so settling into three rows of seats in a large truck, one side of which functions both as a cinema screen, and as a clear glass window.
Then, with a teenager acting as tour guide, we set off around Paisley and Johnstone, reflecting on the personal and societal rules we obey without thought, and on the urban future that might await us, in the “smart cities” of tomorrow. There’s film, there are images, there’s sound involving a ten-strong youth choir, there’s plenty of video chat between the guide and the laconic driver; and there is the town of Paisley itself, now offering – through the eyes of its young people – a unique glimpse into all our futures, that no 21st century theatregoer should miss.
Charlie Ward, run completed. A Change In Management, final performance today. Do’s And Don’ts, final performances today and tomorrow.