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Greyscale - Sandy Grierson Will Lecture, Dance and Box

Theatrical con-men are everywhere in Edinburgh at this time of year.
All it needs is a change of hat, a stick-on moustache and a penchant
for talking up attributes you haven't got, and Bob's not so much your
uncle as anyone you want him to be. This is a trick Lorne Campbell's
Greyscale company explore to the max with their show, Sandy Grierson
Will Lecture, Dance and Box. Hang on a minute, though. When Campbell
and playwright Selma Dimitrijevic first co-directed a version of the
show at Oran Mor last year, wasn't it called David Ireland Will
Lecture, Dance and Box? And aren't Grierson and Ireland both noted
actors on the Scottish theatre circuit? And what on earth has
Swiss-born proto Dadaist prankster Arthur Cravan to do with anything?
The answers to all these questions probably won't be found by going to
see the work in what sounds like a curious way of doing business.

“Arthur Cravan had about a hundred and twenty identities,” Greyscale
artistic director Lorne Campbell explains. “He was a con-man, and he
was a dadaist before Dada. He was a boxer as well, and he did fight
Jack Johnson, who roundly beat him. He said he was a great singer, even
though he never sang. When the First World war came along he decided he
wasn't interested in being shot at, so fled to America, where he fell
in love. Then he fled to Mexico and and after planning to sail to
Argentina, was never seen again, although for the next forty years
there were alleged sightings of him all over the world. One story goes
that he wrote the script of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre for John
Huston, and as time went on other people started pretending to be
Cravan.

“You tell anyone about all this stuff that Cravan got up to, and nobody
believes you, but in fact, the only lie in the play is that an actor
with the same name as the character they're playing says Arthur Cravan
is his great-grandfather, and is a DJ in Lisbon. There actually is a DJ
in Lisbon called Arthur Cravan, but it isn't him.”

In this respect, whoever's standing up there lecturing, dancing or
boxing is effectively a Dr Who style regenerated version of their
former self. In this respect too, there are parallels with Andy
Kaufman, the late American comic genius immortalised in Milos Forman's
1999 film, Man on the Moon, and who similarly flirted with identity. At
the Situationist inspired end of the visual art world, multiple
identities such as Karen Eliot, Luther Blisset and Monty Cantsin
abound, allowing individual responsibility to be avoided for whichever
grand prank might be being played out.

“There's this sense of telling an enormous lie,” says Campbell, “but
keeping a straight face and feeling absolutely no obligation of letting
the audience in on the joke. In the play Sandy is setting out to
transubstatiate into Arthur Craven to become a higher being, which
gives you a kind of shamanic, magical experience. Part of that
transubstatiation is done using interactive origami, and involves
audience participation in quite an old-fashioned way. So you get this
really fun, anarchic, experiential piece of theatre, but which offers
out quite a dangerous thought, that everything you ever imagined you
are, you are. If you want to change, then change, and if you want to
stay the same, then stay the same.”

This goes as much for Greyscale's methodology as much as the work
produced.

“This piece is written by Sandy, with me helping,” says Campbell, “and
when David Ireland did it, that can be looked on as a first draft. We
want to draft productions in the same way as texts are drafted. If the
first draft with David was very much the egg, then this draft with
Sandy is very much the chicken.”

Greyscale was formed by Campbell, Dimitrijevic, Grierson, Ireland and a
dozen or so peers and colleagues to create work collaboratively.

“For the first year and a half after I left the Traverse I did a lot of
freelance directing, which I found very unsatisfying, trying to create
art in a room in three weeks with people I didn't have a shared
language with,” Campbell says. “But if an actor works on a Greyscale
show, then they own part of the royalty of the piece, because in a way
they are co-creators of that process. One of my frustrations with a lot
of new writing is that it feels too literary, but the way Greyscale
tries to work means we all have to ask ourselves pretty searching
questions about what our role is in the process. On the one hand we all
have to take on a lot more responsibility, but we also have to give up
an awful lot, and that can be painful for the ego.”

The roots of Greyscale date back to Campbell's time in Edinburgh as an
associate director at the Traverse Theatre, when during autumn 2006 he
was one of the prime movers behind Cubed, a month-long festival of
cross-disciplinary work that mixed up theatre, music and visual art. Of
the three plays that formed the centrepiece of Cubed's theatrical
strand, Tilt, the standout was Morna Pearson's piece, Distracted.
Tilt's ensemble cast featured actors Garry Collins and David Ireland,
both now members of Greyscale alongside Pearson.

Another link with Greyscale during Campbell's time at the Traverse was
Cherry Blossom, a play that appeared at the Traverse towards the end of
2008. Written by Catherine Grosvenor and developed for a Scots/Polish
cast by her with Campbell in the directors chair, the production also
featured major input by Mark Grimmer and Leo Warner, aka world-renowned
audio-visual experts, 59 Productions, who've worked with everyone from
the New York Metropolitan Opera to Sigur Ros singer Jonsi. In what may
have been a first for the new writing theatre, both Campbell and 59
received equal billing with Grosvenor in terms of the play's creation.
Again, it's perhaps no coincidence that Grimmer and Warner are members
of Greyscale's loose-knit collective.

“One of the weaknesses with Cherry Blossom was not knowing myself what
I was asking the writer to do,” Campbell confesses, “but one of its
strengths was that 59 had a sense of authority there as well. In that
way Cherry Blossom is my favourite piece of flawed work.”

So far, Greyscale have debuted three works at Oran Mor, as well as new
productions of Tim Crouch's Edinburgh hit, again at the Traverse, My
Arm, and Stewart Lee's monologue, What Would Judas Do? Greyscale have
just presented something called The Theatre Brothel at the Almeida
Theatre, a project where audiences arrive not knowing what they're
going to see, but are given several choices. All of which is in keeping
with the current vogue for more loose-knit theatrical forms in which
the audience are in amongst the action. It's no surprise either to hear
Campbell cite the late theatrical anarchist Ken Campbell as one of his
heroes.

“We're living in an interactive age,” Campbell points out. “Its not the
1950s, and people don't go to the theatre to bask in someone else's
glamorous life. We're more egotistical than that.”

Future plans for Greyscale include a version of Coriolanus involving
three actors and five thousand toy soldiers. In the meantime, Campbell
and his collective of kindred spirits remain intent on redrawing the
boundaries of the theatrical experience.

“It's a funny smorgasbord,” he admits, “but in terms of contemporary
British theatre artists, these are a nice bunch of people to nestle
into.”

Tonight Sandy Grierson Will Lecture, Dance and Box, Assembly George
Square, August 3-28, 7.50-8.50pm
www.assemblyfestival.com
www.greyscale.org.uk

The Herald, August 3rd 2011

ends

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