The Citizens’ get religious. TAG get poetic and the Traverse get experimental.
LISTINGS: THEATRE 48 CABARET 50 DANCE 50
Gospel truth ‘ ‘
Giles Havergal has been foiled in his long-standing threat to do a one-man, low-budget interpretation of one of The
Gospels. Instead he’s doing a full-scale version of all four. Mark Fisher reports.
Almost exactly a year after Robbie Coltrane hauled his outsize red jump-suit through Dario Fo‘s Mistero Buffo, it‘s time for Glasgow theatre to get religious again. This time it‘s the turn ofthe Citizens‘ Theatre, where Giles Havergal has distilled the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John into a complete life ofChrist for the stage. In the Christian answer to The Mahabharata, the Gorbals theatre will take us through that other greatest story ever told.
By coincidence, on the day I‘m due to talk to Havergal, a publisher‘s catalogue of religious books has arrived in The List office. lts front cover is a blue-tinted landscape ofcotton wool clouds, reinforcing that soft-centred stereotype of cosy coffee mornings and people being stomach-churnineg nice to each other. I put it to Havergal, who is also directing the show, that such an image would not lure a street-wise Glasgow audience into his theatre.
‘lfyou do it, as we do, in that 1611 version, then it establishes the story, and by inference the
Director Giles Havergal lullils his ambition to dramatise the tour Gospels.
philosophy, as much more hard-edged and contentious,‘ argues Havergal. ‘Some ofit is all lovely and so on, but other bits, even we have thought, “Good Lord, did you really say that?“ It
f is a story upon which for 2000 years people have ' based their lives and therefore it must have a
centre. I suspect that that cloudy landscape way of looking at it is slightly Victorian. Everybody will be surprised at the toughness of it — not only in the story, but also in a lot ofwhat is said, it is extremely contentious.’
Without changing or adding to the words, Havergal has brought together the most dramatically adaptable passages of the four Gospels. He’s taken the Nativity from one, the Ministry from another and so on through the Crucifixion to the Resurrection and the Ascension. All the while he has been keen to emphasise not only the drama ofeach scene, but also the underlying tension which binds the story together. ‘There‘s a terrible feeling that you‘re on
a roller-coaster to disaster,’ he explains. ‘I‘ve tried to bring out this constant undercurrent of hostility which manifests itself from the beginning. You hear that this is a great success, very popular, it‘s really going terribly well. but all the time you have these other folk saying, this has got to be stopped, we‘ve got to do something about this, we’ve got to catch Him and finally we‘ve got to kill Him. When you read them more closely, you realise that the thread ofopposition is part of the Gospel story.‘
Given the historically uneasy relationship between Church and theatre, there is some irony in the fact that three weeks‘ worth ofCitizens‘ audience would make a healthy congregation for a year in your average chapel. Havergal prefers to see the process as having come full circle, pointing out that the roots of Western drama are in early biblical dramatisations, although he has not geared the production exclusively to the faithful. ‘I‘ve been rather careful not to look into people‘s souls,‘ he says. ‘I was thinking the other day that I would like to see a show like this based on the Koran. I‘m absolutely ignorant ofthat and I would be terribly interested to see a sort of dramatic reader’s digest ofit. So I think non-believers will find this extremely intriguing.’
Believers too, he argues, will have the chance both to enjoy the sophisticated 17th century language and to hear afresh a familiar tale in a
_ new context. ‘It is a little bit like To be or not to
be,‘ he says, ‘when you get to that everybody’s waiting for it, but in every production that speech strikes you anew. The same thing happens with the Lord‘s Prayer. I hope this production will be neither Bible-bashing, which is tremendously proselytising, nor will it relegate an extremely tough story to your blue, cloudy landscape.‘
The Gospels, Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, Fri
. I—Sat23 Feb.
The work at Scotland’s most innovative theatre companies is increasineg characterised by a mum-disciplinary eclecticism. Directors at Communicado, the Tron and the Traverse are ever more likely to blend music, dance and visual art into their more traditional dramatic structures. And TAG too, particularly since its s'uccesslul adaptation of ‘Great Expectations' in 1988, has pursued an interest in stretching the expected
boundaries of theatre - never more so
than with its latest production, a dance-drama interpretation of Edwin Morgan’s poetry.
Based around a story about live space travellers on a reconnaissance mission to planet earth, ‘From Glasgow To Saturn’, like all good science tiction, takes a hard look at contemporary lile. At the helm are director Tony Graham and choreographer Andy Howitt, who with the help at music and video, are creating a theatrical lorm lor Morgan’s distinctive Glasgow science liction. ‘What we’re trying to do, which is hellisth ambltious,’ explains Tony Graham, ‘is not simply to bring the poems into reliei and into context, but to discover what the relationship is between the poems.’
Having agreed not to use any additional text, the poems, some of
which have yet to be published, have to make dramatic sense in their own right. ‘It would almost be too easy’, says Andy Howitt, ‘to say, how do we get from this situation to that; OK, let’s write two or three scenes. It’s much
Poet Edwin Morgan V
better to tlnd a new vocabulary using dance and music. I think it’s all written with drama and movement built in it and what we’ve got to do is lind some other way at doing it. We’re not trying to do the same thing. He’s already telling us there’s a violent crash, so there's no need to show a violent crash.‘
Despite his theatre background, Tony Graham is quick to agree. ‘We have to lind a dramatic equivalent for poetry,’ he says, ‘and we also leel we’re lar closer to the centre when we're in the realms ol choreography. But the choreography only really takes shape in a dramatic context. That's what makes it exciting.’ (Mark Fisher)
From Glasgow To Saturn is at the Tron, Glasgow, Tue 5—Sun 10 Feb and on tour.
The List 25 January - 7 February 1991 45