Writer: Pamela Carter
Director: Stewart Laing
Reviewer: Lauren Humphreys
This new theatre event at Tramway is as intriguing in its execution as it is an artistic concept: on one level ‘a multi-layered, multi-media solo performance and exhibition’ and on another, ‘a theatrical experiment in collective memory and in the creation of fiction’.
The publicity material itself reads like the plot of a mystery novel: two years ago a strange box arrives at actor George Anton’s agents in London marked for his attention. In it are snippets from radical young Scottish director Paul Bright’s (ultimately doomed) production of James Hogg’s 1824 novel of religious obsession, Confessions of a Justified Sinner. Bright’s fabled production an ambitious attempt to stage the complex work in a series of unusual locations throughout Scotland.
Anton had been involved in the original piece and recounts how, having not seen Bright since 1989, but being so intrigued by the box and its contents and so driven by a desire to pay his respects to the director, he embarks on a two year quest to piece together any fragments he can of the ill-fated production. These bits of film, press cutting, photographs, drawings and props form the basis for this piece of ‘documentary theatre’.
However, this piece leaves the critic with a dilemma – do you describe what you saw, do you reveal what you’ve learned or the background knowledge you have about this mythical production and the enigmatic characters involved in it, or do you allow everyone to approach it with fresh eyes, to sit back and enjoy the involving and intriguing journey. This critic is opting for the latter.
What this reviewer will say is that this is a masterclass in storytelling, something that is in the heart and soul of not only Scottish theatre tradition but Scottish culture itself and this rollicking great tale is told by a master raconteur. Anton grips us from his first words, he is an utterly compelling narrator: tellingly revealing how a striking revelation at age eight made him realise that he wanted to be an actor, giving us tantalising glimpses of the private man behind the public facade, taking us through the emotional highs and lows of his career and his short but memorable encounter with Bright and his epic production. He provides the glue that binds these half remembered events, fractured memories, bits of ephemera and grainy film footage together, and it is testament to his skill as a performer that when the lights go up at the end it is hard to believe that almost two hours have passed in what feels like the blink of an eye.
The whole project is inspired by, and is an homage to, the radical risk-taking theatre-makers and unique theatre culture of Scotland in the last 40 years and without this background this highly original and truly absorbing piece of theatre could never have been made. For once, a production that is genuinely unique and utterly unmissable.
Runs until: Sat 29 June