John McGrath on John Brown ’5 Body, his new Tramway production; plus The Four Horsemen ofthe Apocalypse at the Citizens’, Kiss of the Spiderwoman at Theatre Workshop and American
dancer/choreographer David Dorfman.
LISTINGS: THEATRE 44 CABARET 54 DANCE 55
V NEW PLAY
Mark Fisher talks to writer and director. John McGrath. about Wildcat’s follow—up to Border Warfare .
‘I‘ve been going to the Mayday marches in Glasgow for years.’ says John McGrath. ‘and as the years have gone by they‘ve subtly changed. Last time I went was the year before last. Every year before then. the flag flying over the (‘ity (‘hambers was red. That year the flag was a Union Jack'.
McGrath sees this as an apt symbol ofour times. Over the past decade we have seen not just the dilution of radical thinking on the Left. but also the erosion of what was once a lively tradition of politically motivated theatre. Playing Devil‘s Advocate I repeat the Right‘s common assertion that people are now happy with their lot and are no longer interested in polemical drama. ‘People do want to hear it .‘ he says with conviction. ‘Border llr’arj'are was packed. People were very anxious to hear what Mrs Thatcher was going to say when her character appeared in the play. It is not just a change in political theatre. Political theatre has had its funds systematically taken away and has had its right to do what it wanted to do manipulated by very clever Arts Council strategies including mostly the fear of losing everything. It‘s because I refused to be manipulated that I left 7:843
Despite the success of Border Warfare— described by Neil Wallace as ‘a useful Trojan
horse' that ensured the short-term survival of'l'he Tramway as a venue — and despite the mammoth concentration involved in mounting John
Brown '5 Body. McGrath remains angry and sensitive about his forced departure from the company he helped found. It will be interesting to see whether his new book. The Bone Won't Break. due out in June and an indirect follow-up to A (iood Night ()at. will develop these feelings further. But in the meantime. he‘s got greater logistical problems on his mind.
For John Brown 's Body. The Tramway is being converted into a giant fun fair with help from the formidable imagination ofdesigner. Pamela Howard. A wooden Big Dipper rattles round the theatre‘s circumference, a Ferris Wheel stands at one end and. somewhere in the middle. a replica
coal mine prepares to re-enact a mid l9th-century disaster. The ruling class live on top of the Big Dipper. while the workers inhabit the area around its struts and supports. ‘The whole enterprise came after seeing a TV series called Scotland '5' Story,’ says McGrath, ‘note where the apostrophe comes. I challenged Jeremy lsaacs and said there was an alternative story to be told. With this space we got the opportunity to explore those two levels ofsociety. To develop the way people move from one level to the other is also very interesting.‘
The set model suggests ifnothing else that the promenade performance will be visually arresting. But how will this epic story of the Scottish Central Belt working class he more than an elaborate museum piece? ‘In theatre you can show social structure.’ explains McGrath, ‘where you can‘t possibly in a museum. Theatre is the relationship between groups of people and individual relationships within those groups. Also the larger social relationships which most naturalistic theatre doesn’t bother about. Because this is epic in style, we can explore the connections between groups which is why those two levels are useful.’
This being a Wildcat production, the play will be enlivened by original music. According to the company‘s Dave McLennan, the play ‘re-establishes that socialism has always had good goals‘. Inspired by the changing face of Eastern Europe, McGrath promises to be re-writing right until the end ofthe run. ‘You need to keep it alive,’ he says. ‘The main thing I draw attention to is the role of the multi-nationals. The first thing through the Berlin Wall is Pepsi Cola, the second thing is Saatchi and Saatchi. The multi-nationals’ vision of Utopia is a world full of free-ﬂoating voters. The real struggle now is over the fruits of technology; whether they‘re going to be appropriated by the multi-nationals or going to benefit everybody.‘
John Brown ’3 Body is at The Tramway, Glasgow, 20—31 March & 9—21 April, 7pm.
SEME- Take aim
David Dorfman is enjoying an Indian summerof success, having recently won the 1989 American Choreographer Award after building a reputation for consistent quality in his work. Since 1984, his work has been performed by a wide range of companies, including Dance Theater Workshop and Performance Space 122. Added to this, his choreography has appeared in the
repertories of CoDanceCo, The Performing Arts Ensemble and New Dance Ensemble, as well as Transitions Dance Company in Britain. Dorfman's accessible style is contained in a fusion of narrative and movement. Controlled by a highly structured eye, he uses metaphor and theatrical device, provoking a popular response. His lastest work, Careful
Aim, premiered in New York last week,
before crossing the Atlantic for New Moves in Glasgow, explores dynamic emotional and physical boundaries surrounding human behaviour,
' focusing on risks taken in moments of
crisis. Judging by past works, we can expect daring athleticism and vibrant choreographic style.
An accompanying programme of solos and duets includes Sleep Story, a breathtaking production in which one dancer is repeatedly knocked over by the flying body of another. This being Dorfman’s first visit to Britain, rounding off a rich festival of innovative work, Careful Aim should be well worth seeing. (Jo Roe)
Careful Aim, RSAMD, Glasgow, 22 and 23 Mar.
The List 9— 22 March 1990 41