Sunday, 20 March 2011

Smalltown

Take three boys, all sired in not so sunny Ayrshire before they ran
away to the big city in the west to find fame and fortune. That fame
came through the theatre, where these three very different little boys
became playwrights, mainly of a comedic bent, writing at times of the
growing pains of being stuck in assorted backwoods hamlets dreaming of
escape. With such similar but different routes taken by D.C. Jackson,
Douglas Maxwell and Johnny McKnight, what one wonders, must be in the
Ayrshire water supply to cause such a creative overflow?

Audiences will be able to find out when they visit Smalltown, the new
play co-written by the trio and directed by McKnight for his Random
Accomplice company, who open at the Tron this week before taking the
show out on tour. With each author setting their individual
contribution in their own home town, Girvan (Maxwell), Stewarton
(Jackson) and Ardrossan (McKnight) become the back-drop for a
science-fiction B-movie inspired yarn charting the catastrophic results
of the neighbourhood’s polluted water supply when limited edition
bottles of water commemorating Robert Burns losing g his virginity are
poisoned. The results include zombies marauding through the
supermarket, horny teenagers unleashing the animal within and a game of
Russian roulette on the beach.

Best of all, in the spirit of the inter-active times we’re zapping our
way through, the audience get to vote on which of the three endings
they want to end the night with. While such a novel approach may endear
what is already a pretty silly premise to their audience even more, try
getting all three writers in the same room to talk about the experience
and its hard not to be overwhelmed by both the sort of banter that may
yet end up being said onstage and a healthy sense of competition you’d
think they’d have left back in the playground.

“It’s a bit like Grindhouse cinema the way we’ve done it,” says
Jackson, who previously applied his pop culture literate frame of
reference to an entire trilogy of plays set in Stewarton that moved
from The Wall to The Ducky and The Chooky Brae. “We’ve collaborated on
some bits, but essentially you’re getting three plays for the price of
one.”

“You say it’s like Grindhouse,” contradicts Maxwell, who last worked
with Random Accomplice on his play, Promises Promises, “but I think
it’s like the DVD bonus features of panto season.”

Whatever its grab-bag of post-modern propensities, Smalltown as a
project came about, as things often do, out of panic. With a funding
application deadline looming, the original project planned for Random
Accomplice had fallen through, and McKnight and co-director Julie
Austin had to come up with something quick. Going through some cuttings
of reviews, he chanced upon an article that questioned what was in the
Ayrshire water to produce such cheeky chappies as Jackson, Maxwell and
McKnight. It was a eureka moment to save the day, and the somewhat
wobbly foundations of Smalltown were cobbled together.

“It had never occurred to me before then that Douglas, Daniel and I all
came from the same kind of area,” McKnight says of Smalltown’s roots.

“Cos I’m from a nicer bit,” Maxwell chips in, provoking hilarity among
the trio.

“But also,” McKnight continues eventually, “I thought we’ve got quite a
similar sensibility, and I could imagine the three of us working
together. Also, socially as well I thought it would be quite good fun
having meetings and stuff.”

“That was definitely the reason I did it,” says Maxwell, “because right
from the initial concept I was like, er, but Ayrshire doesn’t have one
water supply, so I didn’t really think there was much of a concept. But
I thought it would be a scream, because I’ve worked with Johnny before,
and I’ve known Daniel for a long time. Those meetings Johnny’s talking
about, the first meeting we had we did fifteen minutes work, and then,
literally, eight hours of gossiping.”

“We transformed into these three crones of theatre,” asserts McKnight,
whose Little Johnny trilogy of plays put Random Accomplice on the map.

By a strange quirk of fate, this conversation is taking place the day
after Burns night, when Ayrshire’s most celebrated man of letters is
traditionally toasted with lashings of haggis, whisky and general bad
behaviour. Is Burns the metaphorical grand-daddy, then, of this
twenty-first century Ayrshire renaissance? Or is such a flowering of
talent mere coincidence? Maxwell, for one, is keen to distance himself
from any kind of scene.

“The difference between Girvan, Stewarton and Ardrossan is huge,” he
says, “and I rebelled against Burns when I was younger. He was a
tea-towel for me, and was more about golf clubs and the Masons until I
read a biography of him.”

“What we have in common is coincidental to coming from Ayrshire,” says
Jackson, although McKnight points out that “I think we love and respect
a type of theatre that maybe some of our peers don’t.”

“It’s not just about being popular,” says Maxwell, “but I think we all
think about entertainment. There’s something deeper going on as well,
but it has to entertain.”

Smalltown, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, February 15-19, then on tour
www.tron.co.uk
www.randomaccomplice.com

The Herald, February 2011

ends

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