When Paul Bright's Confessions of A Justified Sinner was first
presented by Untitled Projects and the National Theatre of Scotland in
2013, the performance and accompanying exhibition were far from
straightforward interpretations of James Hogg's novel, which was
presented as a possibly unreliable memoir on the alleged crimes of its
narrator, Robert Wringham. Rather, in the hands of director Stewart
Laing, playwright Pamela Carter and a network of visual artists and
researchers from the 85A collective, Paul Bright's Confessions found
actor George Anton relate memories of a legendary stage version of
Hogg's book presented in the late 1980s by the maverick figure of
radical theatre director Bright.
Anton's monologue was accompanied by scrappy film footage of incidents
and rehearsals surrounding Bright's production alongside interviews
with Bright's fellow travellers. What emerged from the play alongside
the exhibition's meticulously observed archive was a reconstruction of
an era when such a singular and subversive artistic vision could still
find a platform in Scotland in a way that might not be the case today.
Laing's production is particularly evocative of a pre 1990 Glasgow,
with specific local and historical references that you think might not
translate well. It is a welcome surprise, then, to discover that the
show has not only had a successful run in Sweden since it first played
in Glasgow and Edinburgh, but that tonight it opens at Dublin Theatre
Festival on the Peacock stage of the Abbey Theatre, Ireland's national
theatre in everything but name.
“The show is so Glasgow-specific,” Laing explains, “and it was
something we were concerned about. It was something producers were
concerned about as well, I think, when we sat down with them. They
asked us how we thought it might translate, but that was a question we
had to ask them as well.
“It went really well in Sweden. We did it without surtitles, but gave
everyone a glossary, to explain what the Old Firm was, and who The
Krankies were, just to give people a little bit of help. But I think
the show is a lot more universal than that. I know Pamela thinks of it
as a love story, but for me it's about truth and reality. The letter at
the end of the show is a letter describing something that didn't
happen, but for me it's so much better than what did happen, so for me
it's about the power of art, and that's what excites me about the show
At the heart of Paul Bright's attention to detail is a conceit which it
may be best that audiences remain unaware of until they go to see it.
What they do with it once they do become aware of the show's meticulous
array of reconstruction and theatrical insider knowledge, however, is
up to them.
“It's a bit like The Mousetrap,” says Laing, “and we come and go about
the central conceit of the show, but for me now, it's out in the public
domain, it's been reviewed, and people can describe it however they
want to. The concern we have now is to make things as clear as
possible, as before I think there were a lot of people who left the
theatre maybe not getting the conceit, so we've changed a few things at
the end of the show. For instanced we've changed the credits in the
film to highlight the fact that Owen Whitelaw plays Paul Bright.”
This may appease some members of the show's original audience who
perhaps took issue with the idea of suspension of disbelief that fuels
“Someone told me that they thought what we were doing was unethical,”
says Laing, “which I find extraordinary, that in a fictional form,
because you pretend that something is true, that people then expect it
ton be true. Nobody questions whether Hamlet is real when you go to see
Shakespeare, and it's the same here.”
Untitled Projects are one of several Scottish companies whose work
features in this year's Dublin Theatre Festival. As well as Paul
Bright's Confessions of A Justified Sinner, The Arches will be bringing
over Robert Softley's solo piece, If These Spasms Could Speak, while
DTF's family programme will feature Shona Reppe's The Curious Scrapbook
of Josephine Bean.
Also featured in this year's DTF programme will be Back To Back
Theatre's production of Ganesh Versus the Third Reich, which was seen
in this year's Edinburgh International Festival theatre programme, and
which forms part of a mini season of Australian work in Dublin.
Elsewhere, Edinburgh Festival Fringe regular Tim Crouch will present a
new piece with collaborator Andy Smith, what happens to the hope at the
end of the evening.
These will play alongside new plays by Irish writers Tom Murphy and
Mark O'Rowe, while Thomas Ostermeier's production of Hamlet for the
Berlin Schaubuhne has already opened DTF with a bang.
“They have a really good mix of Irish and international work at the
Dublin Theatre Festival,” Laing explains. “I just love the fact that I
get to do it again, and that there's a wider audience for it. I've
worked a lot in opera, and that happens a lot in opera, that something
can be revived two or three years after you've first done it, and since
the National Theatre of Scotland was started, that's started to happen
here as well.”
Given that Fergus Linehan, who was director of DTF between 2000-2004,
is now in charge of Edinburgh International Festival, perhaps a similar
ethos will be developed there as well.
With more festival dates pending in 2015, Paul Bright's Confessions of
A Justified Sinner looks set to subvert the mainstream in a way that
some of the show's real-life forbears couldn't. Laing cites American
theatre director Richard Foreman and, closer to home, the Glasgow-based
Ken Davidson as major influences on his work.
“I'm a huge fan of the work Ken Davidson did at Tramway in the early
nineties,” says Laing. “I think we all know a Paul Bright, whose
radical ideas make for an uncomfortable fit with the mainstream. In
Glasgow especially we like a rebel, someone who just gets on and does
what they want and doesn't care what people think.”
Paul Bright's Confessions of A Justified Sinner, Abbey Theatre, on the
Peacock Stage, Dublin, tonight-Oct 11. Dublin Theatre Festival runs
until Oct 12.
Dublin Theatre Festival – The Highlights
Dublin Theatre Festival was founded in 1957 by impresario Brendan
Smith, and is now the longest running specialised theatre festival in
Since Smith stood down in 1983, DTF has had six directors, including
new Edinburgh International Festival director Fergus Linehan from
2000-2004, and DTF's current director, Willie White, who has been in
post since 2011.
Highlights of its current programme have included -
Brigit & Bailegangaire – A double bill of plays by Tom Murphy by Druid
Theatre features Bailegangaire, first presented by Druid in 1985, and
Brigit, a new prequel to this tale of one woman's remembrance set
thirty years earlier.
Our Few and Evil Days – A new play by Mark O'Rowe, whose Howie The
Rookie was a sensation when seen in Edinburgh several years
ago,features Sinead Cusack in a play about devotion.
what happened to the hope at the end of the evening – Edinburgh regular
Tim Crouch teams up with collaborator Andy Smith for a look at what
happens when two middle-aged men meet up and start talking.
A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing – Annie Ryan's Corn Exchange company
adapt Eimear McBride's inner monologue about a girl's life from the
womb to age twenty for the stage in a production featuring a
performance by Aoife Duffin which has wowed audiences and critics alike.
Neil Cooper will give a full report from Dublin Theatre Festival in the
Herald next Tuesday October 14.
The Herald, October 7th 2014