Skip to main content

Dragon and Paul Bright's Confessions of a Justified Sinner Revived - Edinburgh International Festival 2015

One of the many striking things about incoming Edinburgh International Festival director Fergus Linehan's inaugural programme has been its recognition that home-grown work more than deserves a place alongside names perhaps more familiar from the international festival circuit. It's not that Scottish work hasn't been seen at EIF. Far from it. It's just that much of the time the works presented thus far have been brand new, untested and, limited by short rehearsal periods, regarded by some as being not quite ready. The result of this is that an EIF commission has sometimes looked like something of a poisoned chalice.

Both Paul Bright's Confessions of a Justified Sinner and Dragon, however, have already proved their mettle on an international stage prior to their respective EIF dates this week. The former is an ingenious construction by director and designer Stewart Laing's Untitled Projects company which on the face of it looks tied to its Glasgow roots in away that one might think wouldn't travel. The latter is a dark and near wordless piece for young people created by Vox Motus directors Jamie Harrison and Candice Edmunds, and which somewhat conversely to Paul Bright looked tailor made for global success from the off.

With both shows co-produced with the National Theatre of Scotland, Paul Bright was also supported by Tramway in Glasgow where it opened during its initial outing in 2013, and Summerhall in Edinburgh. On the face of it, the play is a monologue written by Pamela Carter which excavates the tale of a firebrand theatre director in unreconstructed 1980s Glasgow. George Anton's solo performance may be at the show's heart, but it is the accompanying mix of film footage and meticulously observed artefacts displayed in the show's exhibition and made by artists Robbie Thompson, Jack Wrigley and others that tap into the city's radical past so vividly.

Despite it's seeming localism, Paul Bright has played at theatre festivals in Sweden and Ireland, and now effectively comes home to the Queen's Hall, the venue where the show's eponymous subject is said to have presented his ill-fated stage version of James Hogg's iconic novel, Confessions of A Justified Sinner.

“It feels like the right place to be,” says Laing. “It was Fergus' suggestion that we do it in the Queen's Hall, and it's not going to be an easy place to do it because of all the concerts that are going to be on there in the daytime, but it's very exciting.”

Dragon, which was made with Tianjin People's Arts Theatre in China, is an equally ambitious project, a near wordless fantasia written by Oliver Emanuel in which physical theatre, puppetry and music by composer Tim Phillips combine to chart a young boy's life following the death of his mother.

“Dragon was always designed to be a touring production,” says Harrison. “We made it here in Scotland, and the thought that a play without words might travel had crossed our minds, but it wasn't the initial impetus.”

While Vox Motus are still a relatively young company, Edmunds points out that “Dragon was the biggest thing we'd done, and we're very at home with that. The piece had been developed over a long time with the NTS and our Chinese partners, and the level of care and investment put into it felt right.”

While it played successfully in Scotland with a mix of Scots and Chinese performers, it was always the plan that Dragon would be restaged in China.

“It was amazing,” says Harrison. “We made it here, but there was a whole new production made over there with a totally Chinese cast.”

While the new cast had to come to terms with what they saw as Tommy, the hero of the play, being disrespectful to his mother, the Chinese version of the play also necessitated the rebuilding of the puppets.

“We had to accept we were in a very dragon-centric culture,” says Harrison, “and that what looked sleek to us, to them looked like long maggots.”

As Edmunds puts it, “Taking a dragon to China was a bit like taking coals to Newcastle.”

Paul Bright's Confessions too has evolved the more it has travelled.

“It's been something of a slow-burner,” says Laing. “The first time we did it, in terms of ticket sales it wasn't a popular show, but people who saw it got something out of it, and there ended up being a bit of a buzz around it. Then by the time we got to Dublin there was a real buzz and it sold out. It's almost as if the show was dictating to us.

“One of the things that concerned me about doing it in Dublin was the Scottishness of it and the Protestant culture that the original novel was steeped in, but as it turned out that wasn't a problem. They absolutely got it. In Sweden they got it as well, but they got it on a different level because it's so wordy.”

The EIF dates for Paul Bright's Confessions of A Justified Sinner and Dragon come at very interesting times for both Laing and Vox Motus. Creative Scotland's rejection of Untitled Projects for regular three-year funding – a decision taken after Paul Bright was already confirmed for the Queen's Hall – has effectively left the company in a limbo from which it is unclear whether it will recover.

“The company is still there as an idea,” says Laing, “but I'm not sure what's going to happen next.”

While Laing isn't short of work as a designer of note, Paul Bright's EIF run could ideally be used as a platform for more international dates.

Vox Motus, meanwhile, are currently working with unnamed commercial producers on a major project which should see the light of day in 2017, and currently don't feel it appropriate to apply for public funding at all. In terms of the future of Dragon, Edmunds and Harrison are already looking beyond EIF.

“We've already had lots of interest,” says Edmunds, “and hopefully this is just the start of Dragon having a much larger international life.”

Dragon, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Aug 14-15, 7pm, Aug 15, 2pm, Aug 16, 12 noon and 4pm. Paul Bright's Confessions of a Justified Sinner, The Queen's Hall, Aug 19-22, 8pm, Aug 22, 4pm.

The Herald, August 14th 2015



Popular posts from this blog

Big Gold Dreams – A Story of Scottish Independent Music 1977-1989

Disc 1 1. THE REZILLOS (My Baby Does) Good Sculptures (12/77)  2. THE EXILE Hooked On You (8/77) 3. DRIVE Jerkin’ (8/77) 4. VALVES Robot Love (9/77) 5. P.V.C. 2 Put You In The Picture (10/77) 6. JOHNNY & THE SELF ABUSERS Dead Vandals (11/77) 7. BEE BEE CEE You Gotta Know Girl (11/77) 8. SUBS Gimme Your Heart (2/78) 9. SKIDS Reasons (No Bad NB 1, 4/78) 10. FINGERPRINTZ Dancing With Myself (1/79)  11. THE ZIPS Take Me Down (4/79) 12. ANOTHER PRETTY FACE All The Boys Love Carrie (5/79)  13. VISITORS Electric Heat (5/79) 14. JOLT See Saw (6/79) 15. SIMPLE MINDS Chelsea Girl (6/79) 16. SHAKE Culture Shock (7/79) 17. HEADBOYS The Shape Of Things To Come (7/79) 18. FIRE EXIT Time Wall (8/79) 19. FREEZE Paranoia (9/79) 20. FAKES Sylvia Clarke (9/79) 21. TPI She’s Too Clever For Me (10/79) 22. FUN 4 Singing In The Showers (11/79) 23. FLOWERS Confessions (12/79) 24. TV21 Playing With Fire (4/80) 25. ALEX FERGUSSON Stay With Me Tonight (1980) 1. THE REZILL

Losing Touch With My Mind - Psychedelia in Britain 1986-1990

DISC 1 1. THE STONE ROSES   -  Don’t Stop 2. SPACEMEN 3   -  Losing Touch With My Mind (Demo) 3. THE MODERN ART   -  Mind Train 4. 14 ICED BEARS   -  Mother Sleep 5. RED CHAIR FADEAWAY  -  Myra 6. BIFF BANG POW!   -  Five Minutes In The Life Of Greenwood Goulding 7. THE STAIRS  -  I Remember A Day 8. THE PRISONERS  -  In From The Cold 9. THE TELESCOPES   -  Everso 10. THE SEERS   -  Psych Out 11. MAGIC MUSHROOM BAND  -  You Can Be My L-S-D 12. THE HONEY SMUGGLERS  - Smokey Ice-Cream 13. THE MOONFLOWERS  -  We Dig Your Earth 14. THE SUGAR BATTLE   -  Colliding Minds 15. GOL GAPPAS   -  Albert Parker 16. PAUL ROLAND  -  In The Opium Den 17. THE THANES  -  Days Go Slowly By 18. THEE HYPNOTICS   -  Justice In Freedom (12" Version) 1. THE STONE ROSES    Don’t Stop ( Silvertone   ORE   1989) The trip didn’t quite start here for what sounds like Waterfall played backwards on The Stone Roses’ era-defining eponymous debut album, but it sounds

Carla Lane – The Liver Birds, Mersey Beat and Counter Cultural Performance Poetry

Last week's sad passing of TV sit-com writer Carla Lane aged 87 marks another nail in the coffin of what many regard as a golden era of TV comedy. It was an era rooted in overly-bright living room sets where everyday plays for today were acted out in front of a live audience in a way that happens differently today. If Lane had been starting out now, chances are that the middlebrow melancholy of Butterflies, in which over four series between 1978 and 1983, Wendy Craig's suburban housewife Ria flirted with the idea of committing adultery with successful businessman Leonard, would have been filmed without a laughter track and billed as a dramady. Lane's finest half-hour highlighted a confused, quietly desperate and utterly British response to the new freedoms afforded women over the previous decade as they trickled down the class system in the most genteel of ways. This may have been drawn from Lane's own not-quite free-spirited quest for adventure as she moved through h