Theatre reviews: Jump | MacPherson’s Rant | Take Me If You Need Me

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There’s an explosion of energy in The National Theatre’s latest project, exploring hopes and fears of boys and young men.



Star rating: * * * *



Star rating: * * *



Star rating: * * *

INTERVIEW Scottish artists, in any form, about what first drew them to the creative life, and the answer very often involves a first encounter with a great piece of art that seemed, in some way, to connect with their own lives. “I realised that people like me could do this”, they say, or “I realised you could write great books set in my town”. This is partly about nation and location, partly about language, partly about class; but these phrases speak volumes about the tremendous, mind-blowing power of the moment when people realise that great art is not necessarily a closed world of elite self-expression, and can become a pathway to transformation and liberation for every man, woman and child on the planet.

And I would be prepared to bet that the National Theatre of Scotland’s latest young people’s project, Jump, has offered that life-changing moment of recognition and inspiration to at least some of the 1,000 boys and young men, aged between 14 and 17, who have been touched by the Jump experience, in Glasgow and Fife, over the past eight months. Developed by NTS Learn boss Simon Sharkey with co-director Phil McCormack, the project has two broad impulses: to explore the lives, memories, hopes and fears of young men in their mid-teens, and to use the imagery and practice of parkour – the postmodern urban art of travelling at speed on foot across urban landscape, using nothing but skill, athleticism and strength – as a way of tapping into their often hidden or suppressed physical power and grace.

As it reaches its final phase, the Jump project has produced two shows, one in Glasgow, one in Fife; and to judge by last week’s Glasgow performances in Easterhouse, these short stage pieces are raw, powerful and moving, using the personal experiences of the young performers – 14 in Glasgow, 19 in Fife – to create a rich collage of memories, aspirations, voice and movement. The production values are high, the sound and lighting are brilliant, the movement – by Ruth Mills and parkour expert Chris Grant – is eloquent, and sometimes touching. And in the end, despite occasional awkward moments, the parkour image emerges as a powerful one, about boys using the strength and flexibility of youth to find their own way out of the badlands of 21st-century life, and to find friends who will jump with them, when the time comes.

In St Andrews, meanwhile, the town is celebrating St Andrews Day – and its year as a winner of a Creative Scotland Creative Places award – with a large-scale community show staged in a spacious marquee at Madras College on South Street. Featuring eight professional actors plus a ten-strong community cast from all over Fife, the show features the hugely dramatic historic tale of the Scottish folk-hero James MacPherson, executed at Banff in 1700 for the unpardonable offence of winning the love of a young woman already spoken for by the local laird. It draws its title, MacPherson’s Rant, from what is said to be his own song, about how he “played a tune and danced a roun’” as he waited for death, below the gallows tree.

The outstanding feature of the St Andrews show is its music – which offers an interesting range of traditional Scottish songs, beautifully played by the Madras College band – and its design by Janis Hart, which takes full advantage of the large, light space of the marquee to create a handsome circular stage dotted with light-touch reminders of Scottish landscape. Almost everything else about the show, though, is a shade disappointing, from the flat-footed quality of some of the acting, and the turgid pace of the whole two-and-a-quarter-hour event, to its relentlessly conventional costume-drama style, which presents about as clichéd a tartan-shawl image of Scotland and Scottish drama as could possibly be imagined.

The story itself is a powerful one, and it draws two strong performances from Morna McDonald as lovely young Bess Frazer, and Lucy Goldie as her embittered older sister Margaret. Given a substantial share of a £150,000 Creative Places award, though – and the fact that Scotland is not short of brilliant playwrights who can powerfully link history to contemporary dilemmas – it’s hard not to feel that St Andrews could have produced a much more exciting piece of community theatre than this; stronger in pace, more innovative in style, and far more significant in the contemporary life of St Andrews and Fife, than this pleasant but slightly pallid account of a romantic historical episode.

Which makes it all the more pleasing, this week, to see the Play, Pie and Pint season at Oran Mor back in groundbreaking form, after last week’s gentle late-life comedy from Bill Paterson. In truth, director Graeme Maley’s latest lunchtime show Take Me If You Need Me bites off a little more than it can chew, in attempting a 21st-century vision of Schnitzler’s La Ronde written by no fewer than ten playwrights, performed in extravagant white-face style, and all crammed into a mere 45 minutes of theatre.

The story follows a Bansky-or-Bill-Drummond-style £10 note – emblazoned with the words Take Me If You Need Me – on its circular journey through the lower depths of contemporary urban culture, from ex-con and child-abusing vicar, through waitress and layabout, to banker, posh bird and tycoon. And if the lack of a single writer makes the vision a shade chaotic, the show still whips up a huge satirical energy, and offers a series of heroic Grand Guignol performances from its three cast members, Isabelle Joss, Mark Wood, and Iain Robertson.

• The final performances of the Fife version of Jump are at the Rothes Halls, Glenrothes, at 1.30pm and 7pm today. The final performance of MacPherson’s Rant is at Madras College, St Andrews, 1 December. Take Me If You Need Me runs until 1 December.