Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Incomplete Fringe 2012: Three Writers

The programming of three young Scottish writers at the Traverse this year is perhaps one of the most exciting  events of the Fringe: Rob Drummond, Kieran Hurley and Gary McNair all studied in Glasgow and while their respective careers do not point to a particular movement, they do share certain sensibilities and their presence at one of the Fringe's most important spaces suggests that they are set to become even more important voices in the shaping of contemporary Scottish theatre.

The three plays - Bullet Catch, Beats, Born To Run - are very distinct in terms of style and content: Drummond plunges into a cerebral look at despair with the help of magic tricks, Hurley weaves tales of hope and disillusion around a visit to an illegal rave, McNair places Shauna McDonald on a literal treadmill to examine the journeys of the body and mind pushed to exhaustion. And while Hurley and Drummond both perform their plays, McNair is directing his own script, although he has been known to be his own front man, most notably in Crunch.

It's tempting to link the three, through their shared Glasgow connections, but that would undermine their identities. Hurley's work has emphasised an interest in politics, and a cautious belief in the possibility of change - Hitch followed his journey to the G8 summit; Drummond revels in the possibilities of theatre as a place for serious existential discussion - even when he is having a fight in Wrestling; McNair often manipulates the format of the lecture to present his idiosyncratic takes on social issues. They do share an interest in the personal, and much of their output would be unthinkable without their presence in performance, and they all acknowledge that their identities define the approaches that they take both to theatre making and the content they explore. But beyond that point, they lead theatre into original, fascinating and startling territories.

Beats is Hurley's study of the impact of the rave experience on different lives - a worried mother, a young lad finally getting to dance to the music and a jaded policeman who is battling his conscience and trying to find his own peace of mind. With DJ Johnny Whoop in the corner, mixing up a storm and an integrated video projection above him, Hurley cuts a lonely figure at a wooden table, changing accents and embodying his characters until even their prejudices and ignorance become understandable and sympathetic.

The conflict between the young lad's naivety, his mother's knowing concern and the policeman's gradual hardening are set into sharp contrast by other personalities that wander in and out of the narrative: Hurley's ear for a resonant phrase and measured, comfortable tone suggest that he has found a way of taking the story-telling template and giving it a contemporary vitality.

Like Beats, Drummond's Bullet Catch stars the writer as raconteur. Somewhere between side-show showman and philosophical lecturer, Drummond uses cold-reading techniques to bring an audience member into his web of intrigue and doubt. Drummond's interest in science manifests in his use of an evolutionary theory of survival to drive along the drama, and the recreation of a classic, and dangerous, vaudeville routine offers a visceral tension.

Unlike Beats, Drummond is not telling a story at one remove. The character on stage is a version of Drummond and the thoughts on existence and suicide and despair and free will can be ascribed to the narrator. It's worth questioning whether Drummond does believe the various ideas he recounts (the line about the absolute determinism of the universe is one of the bleakest concepts in human history) - but the point is that he seems to be saying what he believes.

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