REVIEW: William Burroughs Caught in Possession of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner

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DON’T look now, but I think I can sense a new theatrical genre emerging in Scotland. It’s rough, it contains lots of music, it deals with the stuff of popular culture, and it fails all the tests of neatness and coherence normally applied to professional theatre. But it’s huge fun to watch, pulsating with life.

Above all, it sends out none of those cultural signals that still tell too many young people that a night at the theatre is not for them. And if you want to catch the latest example of it, get along to the Citizens’ for tonight’s last performance of this new play by Johnny Brown, directed by and starring the charismatic Scottish actor Tam Dean Burn.

Written by the spikiest playwright-musician ever to emerge from North Shields, the show is a weird, disjointed and sometimes startlingly beautiful event (gorgeous dreamlike design by Caroline Williamson).

Four key figures from the Seventies New York underground, led by Beat generation guru William Burroughs, set sail on an imaginary journey “to the edge of the world and beyond”, a voyage which mirrors – in a more explicitly drug-soaked way – the hallucinatory quality of Coleridge’s original Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Some episodes work better than others; the dialogue in the first half often drifts and falls flat, and some of the comic ideas are excruciating.

But in the end, the show matters because of the strength of the theme it shares with Coleridge’s poem – the theme of hubris, of self-destruction through arrogance – and the sheer vigour with which it revisits that theme in the light of the great post-Fifties rebellion against conventional morality.

Coleridge’s last word is sadness and wisdom humbly learned, Burroughs’ is the love that tells guilt and misery to go to hell, belted out defiantly against a cartoon backdrop of the mutilated New York skyline. To judge by the audience reaction on the first night, that’s a message Glasgow still loves to hear.

Last performance tonight.