Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Kieran Hurley - Rantin

It's a cosy scene in the Glasgow-based Glue Factory complex, where 
Kieran Hurley is rehearsing Rantin',  the writer/performer's ambitious 
but still intimate look at the state of Scotland's assorted nations and 
the people who live in therm. There are lamps and tables on the rug of 
a living-room set-up lined with piles of books and records as assorted 
characters pass through, playing out their stories and looking for a 
place to call their own.

The writer of rave generation meditation, Beats, and the 2011 London 
riots based Chalk Farm is himself onstage alongside that play's 
co-writer, playwright/performer Julia Taudevin. Also on board are 
nouveau folk musicians and singer/song-writers Drew Wright, aka Wounded 
Knee, and Over The Wall's Gav Prentice, who tell other stories through 
songs that are integral to the assorted narratives that criss-cross 
their way.

Ranging from a drunk lying face down on the floor to a tartan-obsessed 
man on a plane, the stories the Rantin' quartet tell could be about 
anyone, anywhere, right now. Yet, as Hurley's show, originally seen as 
part of the National Theatre of Scotland's Auteurs season of works in 
progress at the Arches' Behaviour festival, begins a national tour of 
one night stands in some of the country's less sung towns, a sense of 
place is integral to the work.

“I'd noticed that I'd been using music a lot in my work,” Hurley says 
of the roots of Rantin'. “In my show, Hitch, there was originally a 
band. In Beats it was much more explicit, with a DJ onstage. So I was 
interested in how I might push that further, using live music in 
relation to story-telling, and in relation to creating a sense of 
community, though I didn't want to make a musical as such.”

Hurley started working first with Prentice, with whom he found much 
common ground.

“We noticed a lot of overlap between each other's work,” Hurley says. 
“Gav's got an album called The Invisible Hand, which is really about 
ideas to do with the loss of practices and communities of solidarity in 
working class post-industrial Scotland, which is the same stuff that 
Beats is about. When we started playing around with what became 
Rantin', because of a lot of what was on our minds in terms of making 
it an exploration of Scotland, 7:84's The Cheviot, The Stag and the
Black Black Oil became a reference point, and I started thinking of 
Rantin' as a kind of ceilidh play, and what a twenty-first century 
politicised ceilidh play look like.”

At this point, Tauvedin and Wright became involved in what gradually 
took shape as Rantin'.

“In many ways it's about Scottish identity,” Hurley says, “and about 
destabilising the idea that there could be one singular or central 
concept of any national identity. We're calling Scotland a mongrel
nation in the play, which the ceilidh play form fits in quite well 
with. There's lots of different fragments, which glance off each other 
in ways that are slightly conflicting. There's a destabilised sense of 
there being any singular narrative, and that works quite well for 
exploring plurality, which is a big theme in the show.

“But the show's also about the other lines that divide us that aren't 
necessarily lines of nationhood or border, nut are lines of class and 
economics. Despite the conceit of the show being about Scotland, and 
imagining a map of Scotland at the beginning of the show, those 
dividing lines of class and economics are probably more important. 
They're the lines that really divide people in the picture of Scotland 
that we attempt to draw. The word 'nationalism' sits difficult with a 
lot of us on the left, who intuitively aren't natural bedfellows with 
that.”

Beyond it's politics, Rantin' sounds like a neat sleight of hand, 
whereby something radical is presented in a form that is reassuringly 
old-fashioned.

“In many way ways it's just a variety show,” Hurley says. “ There's 
songs, there's stories, there's sketches, there's scenes. It's no more 
complicated than that. But the dramatic arc, if there is one, comes out 
of the stories that we keep returning to. There are three of them we 
return to more than once, as well as four more stand-alone set-piece. 
There are a lot of one-sentence stories in-between as well, that try 
and give a continual idea of multiplicity.

“The idea is that all these stories are playing out across Scotland in 
real time as we sit in this theatre, and which we zoom in and out of to 
say what is happening. It's an attempt to present a fragmented portrait 
of a nation, which is obviously impossible, to paint anything like a 
complete picture. That fragmented nature of it, the incompleteness of 
it and the fact that what it's dealing with is too big to put into a 
theatre show becomes part of what the show's about.”

One thing Rantin' most definitely isn't is a polemic. Nor, despite its 
appearance in 2014, is it a piece of propaganda for the forthcoming 
independence referendum in September. This is something Hurley can't 
stress strongly enough.

“All of us who've made the show feel really strongly that Rantin' is a 
piece that will have as much to say about Scotland in 2015 as it does 
now,” he says, “ regardless of which way the vote goes. We've all got 
our different personal voting intentions, but it's important that the 
show's not about the referendum, and that the show is about Scotland, 
but isn't framed by that question.

“However, it's also important to us that the show is happening around 
the time of the referendum, because even though the referendum is one 
binary question, I think it's a binary question that creates a rupture 
in the narrative of how we think about  ourselves, and which opens up a 
whole bunch of space to ask ourselves some questions that feel quite 
urgent. The amazing thing is, is that context is happening for everyone 
anyway, so we don't have to underline the questions that the referendum
is asking, because they're going to be so present in the room anyway.”

Beyond the referendum, then, Hurley recognises only too well how close 
Rantin' is thematically to his previous shows.

“They're all stories about atomised individuals who are structurally 
distant from each other and alienated from each other in an 
individualistic society,” he says, “and who have a binding need for
some sense of community and love. It's about trying to understand that 
you're part of something in a world where we feel increasingly atomised 
from each other.”

Rantin' tours this week to Cove Burgh Hall, tonight; Kilmardinny Arts 
Centre, Bearsden, tomorrow; Carmichael Hall, Eastwood, Friday; Beacon 
Arts Centre, Greenock, Saturday. For further tour dates see 
www.nationaltheatrescotland.com.


Kieran Hurley – Reinventing radical theatre.

Kieran Hurley studied Theatre Studies at the University of Glasgow 
before writing and creating a series of shows which he also performed.

Forming a close attachment with the Arches in Glasgow, Hurley first 
came to prominence with Hitch, which recounted his experiences when he 
hitch-hiked to the G8 summit in L'Aquila.

Hitched also marked the beginning of Hurley's ongoing exploration of 
the relationship between the personal and the political, and the search 
for a sense of identity with both.

This theme continued with Beats, a piece of rave generation 
story-telling that in part charted a generation's politicisation in 
response to the Criminal Justice Bill, which was an attempt to outlaw a 
form of music the government saw as a threat.

Hurley performed Beats with a live DJ onstage, and the play went on to 
win the Critics Awards For Theatre in Scotland Best New Play award.

The starting point for Chalk Farm was the London  riots of 2011, and 
the play looks at a high-rise dwelling mother and son's response to 
such incendiary events.

Hurley is an associate artist with Forest Fringe, and is currently on a 
year-long attachment with the National Theatre of Scotland as recipient 
of the Pearson Playwrights’ Scheme bursary.

The Herald, January 28th 2014

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