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Notes From the Underground

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars
When post-punk fabulist Howard Devoto distilled Dostoyevsky's 
nihilistic little novella, Notes From Underground, into the three verse 
and chorus melodrama of A Song From Under The Floorboards, released as 
a single by Devoto's band, Magazine, in 1980, it was arguably the 
ultimate piece of post-modern appropriation. This hour-long devised 
dramatisation by the newly-formed and archly named Visiting Company 
attempts something similar in its treatment of the story of one man's 
self-conscious unleashing of his own despair. There are even some very 
Magazine-like moments in Andrew McGregor's contemporary score during 
the six degrees of meta-narrative contained in Debbie Hannan's 
production.

On a TV monitor set among a table packed with empty bottles, a 
middle-aged Underground Man lays bare the glorification of his own 
isolation among idiots, dove-tailing his yarn with his younger self, 
made flesh and blood here by Samuel Keefe. First using a microphone to 
address the audience, then a mobile phone and a tablet to record every 
utterance as a social media confessional in excelcis, Keefe's litany 
becomes increasingly uncompromising in his willing alienation from 
others. Bringing the story up to date in such a hi-tech rendering 
suggests Dostoyevsky's anti-hero is recording some kind of 
posterity-seeking time capsule for the world to rake over after he's 
gone.

Even his angry sexual liaison with prostitute Liza, played by an 
impassive Millie Turner, is driven by hate. As they thrash about, 
increasingly vast drenchings of ink become smeared across their clothes 
and bodies, as if the pages of the very story-book that Underground Man 
had immortalised his narrative on were melting into him. It's a 
powerful image of self-negation in Visiting Company's promisingly bold 
debut.

The Herald, September 17th 2013

ends


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