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, former Arches director Jackie Wylie has succeeded in recreating much of that powerful, cutting-edge atmosphere.
Tramway, Glasgow ****; ****; ****
For her first international show 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 what seems like a new age of disaster.
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, perhaps beyond repair, 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 black male body has always been first in line when white culture is looking for a hate object.
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.
It’s the task of raising a young white man to live in this world 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 reflected in this first festival weekend, but explored with a vividness and passion that almost seems like joy.