‘Everybody loves you when you‘re doing a solo show because it only costs £250. but my imagination runs to large theatres and big spaces.‘ Neil Bartlett is describing the three year transition of his performance piece A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep from a low budget one man show to a visual and musical feast presented by five performers. Where once Bartlett stood alone. naked and vulnerable on a bare stage. he is now supported by three drag queens. a pianist playing Rachmaninov. a set that incorporates a 15ft staircase and a golden painting backdrop that covers 60ft by 25ft.
Not surprisingly the play. which is being presented at the Tron Theatre in conjunction with the Third Eye Centre. has altered significantly in its emotional impact since it was last seen in Scotland. Taking as its central motifthe life ofthe Pre-Raphaelite painter Simeon Solomon (who was arrested in 1873 for having sex with another man in a public toilet and whose career was subsequently destroyed). Bartlett‘s play is an examination of modern gay
life and experience. ‘The emotional tone of the piece is very different.‘
says Bartlett. ‘partly because it‘s now
1989 and partly because when you‘re performing on your own it is an investigation into one person. whereas with four people it is an investigation into all four personalities. In this production there is a surprising air of celebration despite the death and destruction it is talking about.‘
For this third version of A Vision of Love. Bartlett has collaborated with Ivan Cartwright. Bette Bourne and Regina Fong who are known less for their theatrical appearances than for their drag performances on the London gay club scene. ‘I feel privileged to work with these people.‘ says Bartlett. ‘three drag queens from very different backgrounds all coming together to declare an interest in this same character.‘
But the introduction of ﬂamboyant cross—dressing has not gone without criticism. After they made an appearance on Channel Four‘s new gay and lesbian series. Out On Tuesday. a gay man took issue with the company on Right To Reply for reaffirming homophobic stereotypes while others were trying to establish homosexuals as ‘normal‘ members of
society. Elsewhere. a review in The Independent criticised the show because ‘gay pluck gets reduced to doing something to your eyebrows‘. On both points Bartlett is unequivocal in his disagreement. ‘The Independent review makes me really angry. Too fucking right sister! It is a proper cultural metaphor. but the reviewer is approaching it from a different cultural position and can‘t see beyond the unsubtle categorisation of “drag queen“. We‘re asking people to explore a living tradition. It is very raunchy and outspoken and it is taking place within gayculture.‘
Asa self-confessed ‘professional gay academic‘ and performance artist. it is not surprising that Bartlett is taking up a short residency at (ilasgow University teaching the development of new material to a group of playwrighting students or that the company are hosting an open discussion on ‘The State ofGay Theatre in Britain Today" (25 March. Third Eye Centre). And while these performances were intended to be the culmination ofa three year project. there is the possibility that the company may travel to Hamburg and New York with the show. Meanwhile the artistically prolific Bartlett has already lined himself up to co-direct his own new translation of The School For W1 res and he has been asked to translate a Racine play for the National Theatre. ‘l.arge theatres and big spaces‘ beckon. (Mark Fisher).
‘lt‘s like someone‘s given you a Rolls Royce to drive about in for three months. You feel a bit ill at ease and above your station. but it‘s a big beautiful machine. . .‘
The machine in question is Anton Chekhov‘s The Cherry ()rchard and at the wheel is Stuart Paterson who has translated this turn-of—the-century Russian classic for the Royal Lyceum. Edinburgh. It is being directed by Hugh l lodgart and features an all Scottish cast. but while Paterson has exploited the possibilities that Scottish accents offer. he has made no attempt to set it anywhere other than period Russia. l-Ie correctly reasons that this is a Russian not English play and there is no need to justify the use of home-grown accents nor to make forced or spurious connections by trying to set it in 1980s Perth or some such.
‘lt is about Lopakhin. a peasant. who makes it big and who then starts to move in a circle where he is not at his ease.‘ says Paterson. ‘That seemed to me to be the perfect example ofScottish self-consciousness. I know what it is like to feel out of
your depth with people. Lopakhin is always out of his depth. A lot ofhis problems come from awkwardness. an inability to communicate. and the Scots language is very good at awkwardness. It‘s not very good at emotion. That‘s lovely for him. There is also a class distinction within the language of the play and that is one of the main reasons why I think a Scots rhythm operates more effectively.‘
One ofthe major problems to overcome when staging Chekhov is the smothering tag of ‘Culture‘ and the feeling. encouraged in no small part by Stanislavsky. that there is a right and wrong way to do it. ‘We want to do a very clear production.‘ Paterson explains. ‘and to get rid of Chekhovian fog. You do need technique and pace. but you musn‘t let it fall into self-indulgence.‘ The play was. after all. regarded by the playwright as a comedy or even a farce. and humour is not helped by pondcrous approximations to naturalism. ‘The play is about class and sex and
love rather than the passing of the old order.‘ says Paterson. ‘And the
humour is to do with that. People in love are clowns.
It works because it strikes all those chords with an audience.‘
Paterson is probably best known as the adaptor of seasonal successes such as The Snow Queen and no doubt he brings to Chekhov an awareness of theatre‘s capacity for the fantastic. ‘Theatre to children is a giant magic box and they believe the tricks.‘ he says. ‘but Chekhov too creates this wonderful structure and then he shakes it around a little bit and surprises you. I don‘t think I‘ve got a new view of the play. but I do feel I understand it. I feel at home with it.‘ And while the play. with its emphasis on property. greed and ownership. seems particularly relevant to our own times. Paterson is hopeful that the production will be truthful to and not a distortion of the original. ‘They‘re coming to see Chekhov. not me.‘ he says. ‘1'" be deeply embarrassed if people either congratulate or slag me.‘ (Mark Fisher). L
LONG STORY SHORT
Comic actor Gerard Kelly‘s serious and trenchant work as director of The Sash is not the only
unexpected result of founder and Artistic DirectorJohn McOrath‘s resignation as Artistic director of7184 Theatre Company. Mc(irath‘s post was filled by former Associate Director David I layman. who almost immediately -- having somehow resolved the bitter and protracted row which had existed between McGrath and the Arts Council— commissioned the material for Long Story Short. a new type of theatre show comprising ten short plays by nine different writers.
Long Story Short‘s director is Finlay Welsh. who has frequently acted and directed with 7:84 since standing in for John Bett (who had broken his jaw a week before the opening night) in Little Red Hen back in 1975. Of 7:84‘s recent tribulations he says. ‘I didn‘t want to get embroiled. but whatever was going on there wasn‘t a good feeling towards the end of John‘s stewardship. Now all the bother has been cleared out the way there's a huge sigh of rcliefand a feeling that we can go somewhere. David has got to take the company off in another direction. He‘s got a difficult job but I think he‘s fully up toit.‘
One part of l layman's plans for 7:84 is to develop new writing. and it is likely that further shows of this type will follow in the coming years. Although some ofthe writers. such as Ann Marie Di Mambro and Donald Campbell. are well established. others are very inexperienced. Three of them — poets Tom Leonard and Aonghas MacNeacail and rock musician Ricky Ross — have never had their work staged before. so it‘s a daring venture. ‘There was obviously dialogue between myself and the writers.‘ says Welsh. ‘But we didn‘t try to influence them or become editors. We gave them a banner headline of “Scotland Today“ and took each piece as it came.‘
The results. played in Colin MacNeil‘s set representing one room. are varied of course. but according to Welsh have a consistent overall atmosphere. partly due to
saxophonist Steve Kettley‘s contribution. which does not merely link the pieces but constitutes ‘part of the Long Story.‘ The space is occupied by all the performers (there are five. including Kettley). though the focus is often only on one or two. so the transitions between pieces
can be stnoothly accomplished.
‘These are voices of contemporary Scotland.‘ says Welsh. ‘and some of the voices are quite anguished. There are very funny bits as well. but there are issues in it like battered wives. loneliness. lack ofsexual identity. loss ofnational identity. what‘s going on in El Salvador and what could goon in this country.‘
Long Story Short opened in Skye last week. and tours the Highlands before reaching the central belt. a circuit established by 7:84 but now travelled by a number ofcompanies. Welsh admits there is ‘a preponderance ofcity pieces‘ in the show, Nonetheless. the response up North was ‘vcry quiet. still and concentrated which.‘ he says. ‘l‘m delighted about. The audience are constantly being asked to make emotional and intellectual shifts and I think to be brutally frank they are grateful to get pieces which are not simply about the Gaelic situation. They are about the issues which affect them as much asthey affect the rest ofus.‘ (Andrew Burnet)
22 The List 10— 23 March 1989