Election night at the Traverse, and the new artistic director of the Lyceum – right next door – is busy pursuing his ambition to make theatre into a public forum for the city, and the nation.
David Greig’s chosen vehicle for this work, since before last year’s UK general election, has been Two Minute Manifesto, an idea he devised along with Green Holyrood candidate Sarah Beattie Smith. They gather an audience somewhere in Scotland, set up a sofa, and embark on 80 minutes or so of art and politics, featuring songs, poetry, policy ideas, and a touch of audience participation.
So on Thursday night, the occupants of the sofa and surrounding chairs were Greig himself as master of ceremonies, theatre directors Orla O’Loughlin of the Traverse and Joe Douglas of Dundee Rep, poet and performer Harry Giles, boss of Amnesty Scotland Naomi McAuliffe, political pundit Chris Silver, and Glasgow-based singer/songsmith Chrissy Barnacle. Barnacle – who obsesses about her private life like an ironic caricature of a millennial kid – opened proceedings by singing a wild and drifty love-song to her own brilliant guitar accompaniment, and then we plunged into a bit of election-night punditry, followed by debate about the two most popular ideas to have emerged from the Two Minute Manifesto (***) process; the winner was the idea of a powerful gender equality bill, to be passed through the next Scottish Parliament.
The evening ended with a Scots poetic address of startling but hilarious obscenity from Harry Giles, in the style of Robert Burns, a crowd-sourced poem inspired by the campaign vision of Ruth Davidson riding on a buffalo, and a final song from Barnacle about how she gave too much of herself, somewhere, somehow. Was it all brilliant? No. Was it enjoyable? Yes. Were Giles and Barnacle fascinating artists? Beyond a doubt. As a template for future civic dialogue at the Lyceum, the Two Minute Manifesto formula perhaps needs some revision, to make it more politically inventive, more inclusive, and less polite. As a starting-point, though, it’s both hopeful and delightful; and makes the average TV studio political discussion look hopelessly rigid and sterile, compared with a context that’s more human, more creative, and so much more fun.
Down in Traverse 2, meanwhile, the Greyscale company of Newcastle and writer-director Selma Dimitrijevic are presenting her fine 2008 play Gods Are Fallen And All Safety Gone (****), first seen at A Play, A Pie And A Pint in Glasgow, and performed then by two female actors, as the mother-daughter dialogue it is. Gods Are Fallen is a strange script, though, written – as Dimitrijevic freely confesses – when her grasp of English was smaller than it is now, and she was obliged to use a very simple vocabulary; and the result is a text so spare that it seems to make space for strange happenings, such as her decision, last year, to have the two characters played by men rather than women.
The result is a taut and heart-wrenching series of repeated mother-daughter encounters, beautifully played without a hint of campery by Joe Caffrey and Max Runham, and watched every night by a different real-life mother and daughter who sit on stage with the actors, like silent witnesses. And the effect is extraordinary, as this muscular script written by a woman is delivered back to watching female eyes by two male actors, who illuminate the truth that this is a profound human story of family bonds lost and rediscovered, as well as a female story, mediated in a uniquely thought-provoking way.
As for Paul Charlton’s Second Hand (***), at A Play, A Pie And A Pint, it’s jolly, slightly sentimental two-hander about an impoverished seventy-something Glaswegian, Jim, who finds his home-cum-failing-antique-shop invaded by a young squatter, Ash. Ash has secretly taken up residence in Jim’s attic after falling out with his family, and the best writing in the play – including some laugh-out-loud one-liners – revolves around the encounter between Ash’s complex mish-mash of politically-correct millennial opinions, and Joe’s brand of 20th century common sense. Finlay McLean is a sympathetic but stereotyped old codger, Cameron Cunningham delivers a delightfully witty and nuanced performance as Ash; and with Elaine Mackenzie Ellis in stalwart support as Jim’s harassed and underpaid care-worker, the play bowls along to a predictable, cheesy conclusion, through a series of moments that are often entertaining, and sometimes touched by a truly satisfying hint of the surreal.
• Gods Are Fallen and Second Hand, final shows today