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Herbal Remedies

The Arches, Glasgow
4 stars
James Kelman may be the greatest living writer of prose fiction in the world, but he’s never been a good playwright. This is nothing to do with any imagined political conspiracy, as has recently been mooted. Rather, since 1980s shoestring works The Busker and In The Night, and especially in his solitary main stage shot, Hardie And Baird, Kelman has shown little understanding of marrying his brilliant demotic to a dramatic form.

As Herbal Remedies’ walking wounded double act stumble onstage in mid-sentence, however, this first of two plays in The Arches Kelman season goes some way to fix this. And when one-legged Crutch and barefoot Mate, minding their language and well off the wagon, wake the sleeping woman on the park bench who they christen Clarissa, every-day sparring becomes a torrent of knockabout meta-physics en route to forming some co-dependent alliance in a familiar existentialist homage.

Herbal Remedies nearest neighbour, though, is neither Beckett or Pinter, but Iain Heggie, whose rolling, occasionally over-egged verbal riffs seem to have been filtered through Heathcote Williams’ Hyde Park-set The Speakers and rolled in the vacant absurdist dirt of Viz comic’s Drunken Bakers cartoon,.

Kelman’s heightened baroque banter imagines how those outside the system might articulate, fantasise, ideologise and generally wax lyrical. This is aided by pop-eyed deadpan turns from Laurie Ventry and especially from David McKay, whose fearless facility with his crutch is terrifyingly watchable. Andrea Gibb too, whose unsentimental Clarissa is tougher than either man, makes for the perfect foil who might just take charge in a miniature which has at last seen Kelman’s electrifying voice fly off the page an into unremitting life.

The Herald, October 18th 2007



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