Thursday, 20 September 2012

See Thru Sam?

My position is highly suspect. When I am not out watching theatre, I am sitting at home in dirty clothes thinking about it.  My tastes matured thanks to the programming at Tramway, which showcased the international avant-garde and introduced me to the obscure delights of physical theatre and Belgian choreography. I delude myself that theatre is made not for the benefit of an audience, but for the critic, who has a duty to deconstruct and chide the performance.

Looking over the press release for The Incredible Advenutes of See Thru Sam, I am struck by the ghastly realisation that sometime, theatre is not aimed at me. Of course, there is the problem of comedy - Random Accomplice can be hilarious and have an almost seaside postcard sense of humour - and I share the opinion of that mad monk in The Name of the Rose, that too much laughter will eventually mock everything into meaninglessness.

More than that, I start to link the plot of See-Thru Sam to other plays that I have seen. It's about a boy who dives into a fantasy world to protect himself from the harsh reality of his parents' death. It is described as a coming-of-age story. The character has friends with amusing names, and an unrequited life. It's very familiar.

The question becomes whether I can trust Random Accomplice, and writer Johnny McKnight, to make something of these ideas. The question isn't whether this will be an accomplished, witty and populist drama, that addresses the problem of theatre being a monority interest. That is a given: I'm worried that I am going to be the sulking dissenter, sitting at the back of The Tron wishing that I was desperately trying to decode hidden meanings.

Random Accomplice are undeniably a rising force in Scottish theatre: The Promise revealed that they could do the big issues, without sacrificing complexity: Small Town reinvented the short play as a "choose-your-own-adventure" style trilogy. McKnight's vision as a writer has been consistent. His Big Gay Trilogy gave him a voice, and his interest in the outsider coming to terms with themself and society takes his scripts beyond broad humour.

As he has demonstrated during his tenure directing pantomime at Macrobert, McKnight has the skills to update slapstick and cheeky humour to a modern sensibility. Fusing camp and saucy gags, he has been the intelligent bastion of the old fashioned pantomime, keeping the asides to adults without losing the wonder of the Christmas magic. That same vitality made Small Town a hit. Getting the audience involved - they voted for the last act - he made demands on the actors (including himself) and had three of the west coast's finest playwrights working to a comic and potentially tragic brief.

Alongside co-founder Julie Brown, who has acted and directed in all of their work, McKnight has set the pace for emerging companies and, entering their tenth year, still have more energy than a brand new gang.

See-Thru Sam, rather like Small Town's premise of a water-bourne virus that transforms people into, variously, sex maniacs or zombies, has a predictable plot. My trust in Random Accomplice is that their distinctive voice - the ear for slang and the one-liner - and willingness to mess around with the  format of the play will take this beyond a generic work-out of "young people's issues."

The signs are there: illustrator Jamie MacDonald is animating the performance, and both Brown and McKnight are back together after a few excursions into extra-curricular activities. It was their dynamic interaction that gave Big Gay Wedding the combination of pathos and hilarity which See-Thru Sam promises. If I have doubts about the basic plot, I am enthusiastic to see what they can do with it.

But, I admit, I am corrupted. Although I do believe that every theatre production has an intrinsic worth, I am more on the side of the difficult and the challenging. Eventually, this blog will clarify why this might be  (I don't know yet, although I imagine it is something to do with my experiences at Tramway and deep emotional repression): in the meantime, I end up giving guarded approval to See-Thru Sam.

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