Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
When a middle-aged man walks onstage in his underwear, puts on a pair
of bright scarlet shoes and declares himself the reincarnation of Judy
Garland, evidence may suggest otherwise, but it's a provocative opening
nevertheless to Lee Mattinson's solo outing about one man's belated
coming to terms with who he is. The man in his underwear is Francis, a
spoon-playing romantic in search of true love as he moves through the
back-street club scene that becomes his own yellow brick road en route
to salvation fronting a local community choir. Just as Francis finds a
sense of belonging, alas, a one-night encounter with a building-site
worker he obsesses over before being hit with a restraining order
leaves him diagnosed with Aids.
Such a life and death litany is related in florid terms in Mattinson's
script, which references the mundane everyday minutiae of Francis'
existence in a way which resembles an Alan Bennett monologue. Jennifer
Malarkey's production prefers busyness over stillness, however, as a
mercurial Donald McBride puts his clothes on then takes them off again,
as assorted celluloid images of Garland are beamed behind him. While
this is never dull, there are times when Mattinson's words can more
than stand on their own without such dressing up.
Presented by the Stockton-based Encounter Productions in association
with Alnwick Playhouse, ARC Stockton, Arts Centre Washington and
Northern Stage, the play and production were developed by the north
east of England's Bridging the Gap scheme designed to create and tour
new theatre across the region. The result is an intermittently
fascinating portrait of a man whose entire life is a musical, from
cradle to grave.
The Herald, September 29th 2014