sleeping pills in the morning.’ he ; confesses. frantically fishing in his
junkies; the ‘me first. fuck you Jack‘
Bill Bryden, who won an Olivier award this year for The Mysteries talks to Lucy Ash on location for his
.- new TV play The Holy City.
It‘s like being scrutinised by a gaunt-faced icon sporting a baseball cap that never keeps still. At first it‘s not a comfortable experience. I was in a dark pub at lunchtime sitting opposite the leading National Theatre director and head of drama at BBC Scotland who has just spent a frenetic four weeks in Glasgow filming his television play The Holy City. Bryden seems to thrive on crammed schedules and impossible deadlines.‘A friend says I need three
Nativity in a Glasgow primary school. The Virgin was smiling but had an elastoplast over one eye. ‘Um. what‘s wrong with Mary?‘ he asked. Patiently, the five year old artist explained that she was cut when ‘the Light fell upon her‘. Bryden laughs. ‘lt's obvious— a light bulb. Joseph was OK you see because he wasn‘t standing underneath. I love that — it's so naive and direct‘. Indeed it is this no
Bryden‘s company strive to recapture in the plays originally performed by practical-minded 15th century artisans.
The Nativity. Doomsday and The Passion, drawn from five English mystery cycles and presented in a reworked text by Tony Harrison. immediater banish any ideas of pious tedium in draugth church halls. Elemental wonder is conveyed in moments of electrifying theatre. such as the sudden birth of Adam and Eve who emerge naked from a gravel-filled tin bath. or the Houdini like disappearance of Christ from a chained crate at the Resurrection. But there is also robust realism as in Joseph’s jealous bewilderment at his wife‘ inexplicable pregnancy. or in the brusque shoving aside of the audience as the soldiers clear a path to Calvary. Apart from the compelling mixture ofthe extraordinary and the everyday. the production is further enhanced by dancing. the sometimes brassy. sometimes lyrical sound ofThe Home Service band. and for once in a blue moon. genuinely spontaneous audience participation.
‘The one place a religious person need not go‘. asserts Bryden. ‘is church‘. He feels many are alienated by institutionalised public worship and wistfully pictures a noisy gospel singing Baptist service in Alabama. In the theatre during The Mysteries the promenade audience is similarly involved in a communal act of celebration. but will the plays seem flat when they are screened an Channel Four over Christmas? ‘Normally when you bring a play into the studio you leave the audience behind. but we‘ve brought it with us, so that at home you‘ll be a spectator watchingthe spectators. . .anyway it
l shouldn‘t seem like a play — more
pockets for a cigarette.
Shooting in the ghostly Clydeside shipyards. whose cranes Trafalgar House has sold for scrap. was a strange experience for the boy from Greenock whose grandfather helped to build the Queen Elizabeth. Bryden. acutely aware of time and perpetually in a hurry. gives the impression that the apocalypse is round the next corner. ‘If you want to write a book you'd better get on with it because there might not be any books in two years time. once the Reagans and the Gorbachevs have finished their“useful talks“.‘That old fashioned secular pleasantry ofthe Highlands - ‘ifwe are spared‘ — acquires. he says. ‘a terrible relevance today.‘
The title of Bryden‘s new play and his award~winning production of The Mysteries. which tell the history of the world from the Creation to the Last Judgement. indicate a preoccupation with things celestial. Yet he insists that his recent work centres on religion only in the broadest sense: "I‘he Mysteries are about going back to a time when the common people had faith. Now nobody believes in anything — not their governments. nor their unions nor their marriages.‘ Bryden continues in this vein for several minutes. condemning unemployment; 12 year old pregnant
philosophy ofThatcherism; the ‘Abbott and Hardy/Laurel and Costello set up that calls itselfthe SDP‘ and the boring sententiousness ofwould-be with it ministers who preach that ‘life is like a sardine can or an oil rig‘.
Then he brightens a little remembering a painting ofthe
éThe List l3Dec—9Jan
nonsense attitude to the divine which ;
like a live event somewhere between Ready Steady Go and Billy Smart‘s Circus.‘
In The Holy City too. the audience are part of the action when cameras focus on the crowd at a rock concert given by The Home Service in George Square. The film. to be screened on Good Friday and described in a press release as ‘part passion play, part political thriller', seems to be about the Second Coming ofChrist — to Glasgow. But while the lead actor. David Hayman. openly declares he is playing Jesus and jokingly contrasts the part with that ofJimmy Boyle, his last controversial television role. Bryden
prefers to remain enigmatic. Like most authors ofallegories he gets rather touchy about attempts to Spcll things out. Nevertheless I can confirm that there is some open air preaching and a Last Dinner in one ofthe sumptuous Victorian rooms at Sloan‘s restaurant. There are also twelve disciples including the traitor. Jady. who frequents the shady Saracen's Head pub to inform on the stranger in town to the Special Branch (Pilate‘s régime‘?). and numerous other parallels which I would not be so crude as to list here. Bryden. whose other plays include Willie Rough, Benny Lynch and [11 Fares the Land. firmly believes that ;