Sunday, 26 April 2015

Fever Dream: Southside

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

'People Make Glasgow World Class' declaims the bus shelter hoarding just across the bridge that leads to the Gorbals-based Citizens Theatre. Beyond the spin, such a statement could easily form part of Douglas Maxwell's new play. Set beneath a neon-lit reconstruction of artist Stephen O'Neil's real life installation, it becomes a fantastical love letter, not just to the Govanhill neighbourhood it is set in, but to the city itself.

For Peter and Demi, the young couple at the play's centre, it is a city full of monsters, where family life is disrupted by a cacophony of police helicopters and howling dogs who add to the din of their crying baby. With sleeplessness at a premium, Peter's terminal adolescence rubs up uncomfortably against the likes of Dharmesh Patel's property developer Raj, who takes Umar Malik's disaffected schoolboy Kuldev under his wing and is the epitome of every big-talking wide-boy who ever tried to rip the heart from any city going cheap. Martin Donaghy's deluded evangelist Joe has his own demons to deal with, while a new breed of 'creatives' is represented by a pink-wigged performance artist mercilessly portrayed by Charlene Boyd.

Set against the backdrop of a missing teenage girl and the protests against the closure of Govanhill Baths, the first half of Dominic Hill's production is a woozy collage of urban nightmares that climaxes with a very Game of Thrones style revelation. The second focuses on a kind of collective recovery, with Martin McCormick's Peter and Kirsty Stuart's Demi finally seeming to beat the bad guys.

With any over-riding ennui undercut by some very Maxwellian one-liners, this is an extravagant and audacious ramble through a city's fractured psyche in all its imagined excess. Michael John McCarthy's live score moves from Joy Division style miserableism to sludge metal and beyond towards some kind of redemption. As Kuldev becomes radicalised, the play's final moment may be pure Spartacus, but it is also a call to arms that goes beyond the empty playground rhetoric of party politics to a much bigger and more meaningful form of something resembling community.

The Herald, April 27th 2015

ends

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