When Sandy Grierson as Alasdair Gray's eponymous alter-ego in David Greig's sprawling adaptation of Gray's magical realist 1981 novel declares that he wishes to pen a modern day Divine Comedy with illustrations inspired by William Blake, it knowingly sums up the artistic ambitions of both Gray and Graham Eatough's equally epic production for Edinburgh International Festival and the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow. We've already been introduced to our eternally bemused hero in scenes of retro-futuristic dystopian noir as he is psychologically ship-wrecked in Unthank, a city not unlike Glasgow where the Sun never shines. There Lanark meets Jessica Hardwick's equally wilful Rima before descending into the sci-fi trappings of The Institute, where he attempts to find out who he is.
Subtitled A Life in Three Acts, as with the book and in true Godardian fashion, the beginning, middle and end of this portrait of the artist as a young man don't come in that order as Lanark becomes the author of his own destiny, imagined or otherwise.
Parallel universes and parallel lives abound as Eatough's cast of ten navigate Laura Hopkins' rolling metal set accompanied by Simon Wainwright's projected animations of Gray's own drawings and Nick Powell's gloriously wayward soundtrack. By the time things rewind to Lanark's childhood growing pains as would-be artist Duncan Thaw, it's clear from the utilitarian chorus who trill Numbskull-like that we're witnessing an explosion in Lanark, Thaw and especially in Gray's head.
The final act's initial depiction of 1970s civic wide boys almost caves in on its own self-referential meta-ness. This in parts recalls manufactured 1960s boy band The Monkees' own break for artistic freedom in their similarly sprawling celluloid indulgence, Head, before slowly morphing into a moving elegy for life and art.
The Herald, August 24th 2015