Sunday, 23 August 2015

Edinburgh Festivals 3. Sin, Dystopia and Scotland

...and this is the two of the other reviews from Saturday's Morning Star article (see previous blog). (The other one was in my first Edinburgh blog.)

Paul Bright's Confessions of a Justified Sinner
. Edinburgh International Festival, Queen's Hall. 19-22 Aug 8.00pm 4/5

James Hogg's Confessions of a Justified Sinner is deservedly a cult novel. Written at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and set at the beginning of the previous century, it deals with the history of a character (Robert Wringhim) who is convinced by a doppelgänger (Gil-Martin) that he is a member of the elect, chosen by God for heaven and therefore unable to sin whatever he does. And what he does is murder.

However the fascination of the book is in what we don't know. Who is Gil-Martin? The devil? An evil twin? Or maybe a part of Wringhim's own mind - and an early exposition of the duality inherent in Scottish fiction from Stevenson to Gray. The novel operates on different levels.

George Anton in Confessions... (photo Tommy Ga-Ken Wan)
This is where the drama takes place, Untitled Projects go on to place further layers of artifice on top of that. It is a recreation of a (failed) attempt to stage a version of the book, and the toll it takes on its participants, one of whom, actor George Anton tells the story.

Constructed from a hugely impressive collection of artefacts - books, notebooks, posters, flyers, filmclips, and even the cassette from an answering machine - the drama unfolds leading to the inevitable death of the key participant - Paul Bright - who ends up inhabiting the part of the doomed Wringhim. The history of a young unsung radical Scottish theatre director is finally being told.

The level of detail that has been created in staging this 'history' is astounding. We enter through an exhibition of the artefacts. But we are gradually aware that something isn't quite right. The artefacts are manufactured, the films are of actors playing actors, Paul Bright never, in fact, existed. And we ask what we are really watching? Just as the book itself leaves us with the key layers and divisions unexplained, so the drama builds even more layers on top of that. Is Bright a reincarnation of Wringhim? What is the relationship between Anton and Bright? Is it all, in Anton's phrase 'lying and getting away with it'?

This is an important treatment of an vital novel - especially important at a time when the image Scotland has of itself is at a crossroads, and has the same fracture referred to by Hogg. It is also exceptionally well staged and created. It is a slight disappointment then, that the layers that are piled onto an already complex story, are a little self-referential. It is about more than drama and the arts.

How would you like your dystopia?
Dark Matter, Venue 13, 17.15, Until 29 August. 3/5

The trouble with dystopias that reflect where we are with any level of accuracy, is that it is
As civilization burns...
difficult to make them funny. Just referring to them as a ‘dark comedy’ doesn’t make it so. Such is the problem with Dark Matter, the first show by Dark Matters Productions. This is a apocalyptic and moral (possibly even religious) take on the financial and political crisis.

A congressman and a banker meet again as violence overwhelms Western civilization.  The financial meltdown has arrived, Congress is burning and the mob is stringing up those they consider responsible. These two have previous. Up to their pretty ears in involvement, and personal relationship, they’ve been brought back together by ‘the boss’, Nick (Old Nick?). There is drama, as the two fight about responsibility and personal guilt, but they are clearly locked together, at the end of the ‘world’. 

All seems dark as they leave the stage – but then a shiny chat show (or televangelist?) reveals the two ‘reborn’ as new age global leaders and happy marrieds. That the new order is based on the exposure/execution of the ‘boss’ and the ‘cleansing’ of most of the population gives the dark, satirical twist – think Chris Morris meets Charlie Brooker. The trouble is, we are shown the problem and the danger but given no inkling of a solution.
The writing is sharp. The acting good. The comedy bitter – but not that funny.  Best ironic moment is the valedictory music, as Barry McGuire (now a born-again Christian) sings his apocalyptic ‘Eve of Destruction’ as we file out!

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