Truth and lies are at the heart of this year's Mayfesto season, which runs throughout May at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow. While this annual boutique festival moulded in the image of the long lost Mayfest strand retains its politic heart in these austere times, very intimate explorations of identity in all its myriad forms focuses a more skewed eye on things.
There are plays such as Seamus Keenan's Over The Wire, which, in film director Kenny Glenaan's return to the stage, looks at the effects of riots in the notorious Irish prison in Long Kesh in 1974, at the height of the Irish Troubles. Ankur Productions, meanwhile, present Jukebox, which looks at oral histories of the Glasgow Asian community. Writer/performer Daniel Bye presents The Price of Everything, a performance lecture on value which Westminster's Conservative Culture Minister Maria Miller might well learn something from. Throughout all of these, the politics of this year's Mayfesto remains deeply personal.
Nowhere is this more evident than in two shows which take very different looks at the nature of truth and memory, but which may well reach the same conclusion. Where As It Is finds Serbian born actor and associate artist of the Glasgow-based Vanishing Point theatre company Damir Todorovic interrogating his own past via the use of a lie detector, Bandages is writer and director Kirsty Housley's look at two sisters surrounded by sensationalised headlines of real life crime whose own reality crashes down around them.
“I saw a show in Belgrade in which an actor ran on a treadmill for an hour,” Todorovic says of the roots of As It Is. “He was saying his lines the whole time, and I was very impressed, but it also started making me think about the relationship between reality and fiction. That made me want to do a show with a lie detector, though at the time I had no idea what that might be, but I wanted to pose the question of whether we could live without lies.”
Todovoric,has appeared with Vanishing Point in Interiors, The Beggar's Opera and the company's 2012 Edinburgh International Festival show, Wonderland. No stranger to dark places in these shows, for As It Is, Todorovic subsequently pushed himself to confront his own relationship with his recent past when, in 1993, he was forced to go into the frontline of the Balkan conflict.
“Thinking about this, after twenty years, it feels like a dream,” Todovoric says, “so thinking about what's happened since in terms of my identity, I was a little confused. What happened was my own experience, but some of that could be products of my imagination. So I wanted to see what has happened to my memory, and to the memory of the people, and to examine all these experiences.”
For Bandages, Housley too looked to real life events, albeit on a seemingly much more domestic level, when she read a newspaper report about a young girl who killed her sister.
“They were very young,” says Housley, who has worked with more left-field theatre companies, including Told By An Idiot, Complicite and The Paper Birds, “and there was a real co-dependence they had between them. They'd had an argument about something really mundane, like one borrowing the other's top without asking, but there was clearly a much bigger frustration going on beneath that.
“That really got me thinking about sibling relationships, especially as I live on the same road as a pair of identical twins, who live together, and dress and move in exactly the same way. I wondered, did you really both wake up this morning and decide to put on the same clothes, or is one of you the dominant one? There's something going on there about power, control and a really intense form of love.”
The result of Housley's thinking is a piece of what's described in the publicity material for a show co-produced by Teg Productions and the Corn Exchange Newbury following development at the National Theatre Studio as 'cinematic theatre.' While Bandages doesn't use actual projections, Housley looks to big-screen sisters such as those depicted in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, as well as imagery from horror film, Carrie and The Killing of Sister George.
“That image of a woman covered in blood carrying a knife is almost a cliché,” Housley observes, “and I think there's a real tradition in film of portraying female neuroses and psychosis onscreen in that way. These are difficult representations of women, which I feel drawn to, but which I also feel uncomfortable with.”
At the play's heart, however, is an investigation if truth that runs parallel with Todovoric's in As It Is.
“It's partly about making things up,” Housley says, “about telling the truth, or not telling the truth, or about telling something that sounds like the truth, but isn't. That makes you question your family history, and what you need to put in place to get by.
“I think we've reached a really interesting point in time, where you can see people writing history, but where there's this idea where it's the winner who gets to write that story. I think we've reached a point as well where a lot of people are telling a lot of lies, and where local papers are being quite irresponsible by saying that the world is frightening and that people aren't to be trusted.”
Both Housley and Todovoric put some kind of faith, at least, in humanity's ability to get beyond such scare-mongering.
“We don't need machines to discover what is deeply within ourselves,” Todovoric says. “Contact with human beings is much more important. That's how we find the truth.”
Mayfesto runs at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, May 1st-20th; Bandages, May 3rd-4th; As It Is, May 14th-16th.
Mayfesto – The best of the rest
Flaneurs – May 1st-4th - Jenna Watt's solo show about the nature of violence has been doing the rounds for some time now, but its dissection of whether or not witnesses to assaults should intervene or not remains as pertinent as ever in a beguilingly poetic piece of work.
Who Runs Scottish Culture (And What Is It Anyway?) - May 9th – When Alasdair Gray's essay, settlers and Colonists, was published at the end of 2012, despite some serious factual inaccuracies, it provoked a fiery debate regarding self-determination and who is in charge of Scottish culture. In response, a panel of Scottish artists and commentators come together to discuss the issues further.
The Poetry of Fences – May 11th – Performance, poetry and song are on the agenda for this multi-media dissection of the global village by performance duo, Zorras, Aberdeen singer Fiona Soe Paing and Toronto's Gein Wong, with explorations of race, gender and migration well to the fore.
The Agony and Ecstacy of Steve Jobs – may 17th-19th – The all pervading presence of Apple products is put under the spotlight in Mike Daisey's monologue, first seen in this production in Edinburgh in 2012. Daisey exposes the use of sweatshops in China where under-age workers are watched over by armed guards in an ethically dubious industry.
The Herald, April 30th 2013