Monday, 14 April 2014

The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

It's the voice of God you hear first in Vanishing Point's exquisitely realised impressionistic evocation of the life and times of the poet and song-writer whose influence on popular culture over the last half century is only now being fully recognised. It's a jolly voice compared to the deadpan melancholy of Ivor Cutler's own, but this unseen presence points up Cutler's own uneasy relationship with religious beliefs of all persuasions, even as this co-production with the National Theatre of Scotland is as much a spiritual meditation as any liturgy.

Using a framing device of an actual meeting between actor Sandy Grierson, who plays Cutler, with Cutler's partner Phyllis King below the Kentish Town flat where Cutler once lived, the first half is a celestial radio play that shows how a dreamy boy from Ibrox went from life as a pilot and a teacher to an underground cult figure and star of TV and radio. These scenes give us a glimpse of what shaped Cutler's mind even as they explore how such a remarkable life can be translated into the play we're watching. The second half shifts in tone to something more elegiac as it focuses on Cutler and King's love story, and a personal and artistic bond that proved indestructible even as Cutler slid gently into old age.

Accompanying all this in Matthew Lenton's beautifully nuanced production of a text knitted together by Grierson is a barn-stormingly good five-piece band led by composer James Fortune. Their rollicking new arrangements of Cutler's songs reinvent them as a colourful riot of Klezmer, Calypso and Indian Ragas to shed vivid life on Cutler's unique form of Zen absurdist music hall.

Elicia Daly makes a poignant Phyllis, while guitarist Ed Gaughan provides an array of comic voices that include Ned Sherrin and Paul McCartney. It is Grierson's remarkably observed study of Cutler, however, that carries the show as he charmingly and movingly captures his subject's sense of wonder even at his frailest in this most tender and loving of homages to a true genius.

The Herald, April 14th 2014

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