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Tramway, Glasgow
4 stars
The week-long residency at Tramway by maverick producers, Fuel, 
continued in the tone set by David Rosenberg’s opening sonic adventure, 
Ring, of invading our space and subverting our senses. The rest of the 
programme was by turns arresting, provocative and, at its best, deeply 
political, both on a personal and a global level.

Nowhere was this mashed up more than in Make Better Please, Unexpected 
Guests’ latest meditation on how we live now. This began with focus 
group style round-table discussions on news events of the day, and 
ended with a collective purging of the mess of twenty-first century 
secularised culture discussed earlier.

Following a succession of quick-fire role-plays, things grew 
increasingly frantic, as one of our hosts took on the sins of David 
Cameron, Jimmy Savile, George Osborne and all the rest. Pulsed along by 
a punk-style din, this was Unexpected Guests getting back to their and 
our roots, where the primitive power of the tribe put their faith in 
shamanic ritual to heal them. Such a collective release may not change 
anything, but in a work that is the contrasting light to Ring’s shade, 
it made for an exhilarating form of audience participation.

.One of our guides in Make Better Please was Lewis Gibson, who was also 
one of the artists in The Simple Things of Life, in which five artists 
created work in garden sheds. The full version scooped a Bank of 
Scotland Herald Angel Award in 2011. Two of the constructions – 
Gibson’s Lost in Words and Frauke Requardt’s appositely wordless 
Makiko’s Shed – moved into Tramway to allow audiences of eight to share 
their creators’ very private pleasures.

Gibson invited us in to a vintage world of 3D postcards viewed through 
old-school Viewfinders and a book group which allowed you to make your 
own narrative. Requardt filled his red-painted shed full of mirrors so 
performer Makiko Aoyama could see every flex, twirl and grimace as she 
jumped for joy and danced like her life depended on it.

On the surface, Inua Ellams’ solo play, Black T-Shirt Collection, was 
the most classically conventional of this Fuelfest grab-bag. Yet this 
startling and vividly told tale of two Nigerian foster brothers’ rise 
and fall via the customised t-shirt business that drives them was a 
culmination of all the Fuel roster’s concerns.

By having one brother Muslim, the other a Christian, there were already 
biblical implications to Ellams’ tale. Once Nigerian homophobia drives 
the brothers out from their market stall, first to Egypt, then London 
and the cheap Chinese sweat-shops beyond, a rich tapestry of corruption 
and exploitation is laid bare in a moral fable that may be ancient in 
content, but is made troublingly contemporary by Ellams’ reimagining.

With roots in the spoken-word scene, Ellams is a captivating presence, 
who lends both a  hipness and a seriousness of intent that’s 
accentuated by Emma Laxton’s sound design and Ellams’ own chalk-like 
graphics projected behind him. All this made for a truly startling 
performance that formed part of an even more inspirational week.

The Herald, November 26th 2012



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