Book and roll


Ann Donald meets Booker winner James Kelman who switches the subject to his latest venture into the theatre.

within this handful of the twenty-strong team involved in Sound House that the oft-maligned words ‘comr‘nitment' and ‘integrity' arise regularly in conversation. As Kelman explains. the project is very much a collaboration between people who can identify with the frustrations encountered by the play‘s ‘commited’ characters. ‘The more we do this play.‘ says Kelman. ‘for me it's like trying to become involved with art seriously as away of life for everybody. So a lot ofthe connections and parallels that we all tnake with the musicians are because we are all trying to remain true to the integrity of creating an.‘

Despite the fact they all hail from different disciplines. the Sound House members express a collective enthusiasm to break away from the ‘compromised and commissioned art-with-an- agenda’ that they see as being prevalent in Scottish theatre. The lofty ideals and energy of this initial production have been tempered by realism. as director Glenaan acknowledges. ‘There‘s no point in painting a rosy picture of it. There are four or five disciplines hanging up against each other which is what makes it so exciting. it’s like a wild animal running through the forest and we’re trying to harness it.‘

The energy Glenaan cites is derived not only from the fresh attitude ofthe company but from Kelman‘s

‘An is all very well but out there in the real world it is a fight for survival‘ James Kelman in the foreward to his collection Hardie and Baird and other plays.

Kelman‘s own words proved to be prophetic in triggering off the idea behind his latest play. One-Two—Hey. the first production by an ambitious new theatre company called Sound House. ‘lt could be described as a day in the life of a band who play R & B in pub and club venues and the trials and tribulations of trying to create an when you’re under great pressure.’ says the Booker prize-winner while simultaneously engaged in the an of the roll-up.

The fictional band ofthe play are in fact a real ‘survivors-of-the-60s' band called The Blues Poets. well known around the pub circuit ofGlasgow for their inimitable brand of R & B and soul. Though Kelman is at pains to distinguish the difference between fact and fiction regarding the band. he does confess that as a life-long fan of The Blues Poets the play was a tribute and ‘a way of validating their music.‘

Huddled around the authentic props of pub tables. chairs and overflowing ashtrays in a Govan rehearsal hall. are Kelman. his friend and vocalist with The Blues Poets. George Gallacher. director Kenny Glenaan and actress Anne Marie Timoney. It is

,- 3: «ft

Sound llouse gives Kelman the it & 8 treatment

own multi—layered script. His forays into the world of drama may have been sporadic his last play Hardie and Baird was in 1990 - but he is obviously fired by the prospect of working within a different medium to prose. ‘This is a real liberation for me.‘ he says rolling up another cigarette paper. ‘In drama you’re allowed to get away with certain things whereas in prose everything must be there in a concrete way; no improvisation can go on in a short story or a novel.‘

Certainly those expecting a musical version omer Lure It Was, How Late with the blind ex-convict Sammy rocking out in a vortex of paranoia. politics and drinking are well offthe mark. though the book and play do share Kelman’s dark humour and language that elicits a Pavlovian response of apoplexy in certain circles.

His latest accolade as Booker winner will no doubt focus a disproportionate amount of attention on this project but in the long term it will be interesting to note how Sound House fare within the agenda-led world of theatre.

With a Booker prize winner as its playwright. a stomping R & B band as its subjects and an utter beliefin the ideals of ‘integrity’ and ‘honesty’. it will be interesting to see how Sound House fares in the agenda-led world of theatre.

One-Yir'n—Hey, Arches Theatre. Glasgow. .25 Oct—5 Nov; Traverse Theatre. Edinburgh. 9—13 Nov.

m Records that stick

A second-hand set of Hungarian- Ianguage records might seem unlikely inspiration for a piece of political drama, but this is preciser what Cuban-American playwright Maria Irene Fornes used as a starting point for The Danube, her 1984 play premiered at the Tron by radical veterans Shared Experience. Originally commissioned for a New York antl- nuclear event, The Danube is an East- West love story set in pre-war Budapest, where an un-named sickness is set to corrode a world

language records?


The Danube: ‘This is a recorded message. It will self-destruct in precisely ten seconds . . .’

spiralling out of control. Echoes abound of nuclear and ecological pollution, but what’s with the

‘I think there was a kind of innocence to the language,’ says director llancy Meckler, ‘and Fornes wanted to write about an innocent world, so she used the records’ simplicity as a motif for the main characters. Her writing tends to be poignant and hilarious at the same time, and much of the language she

. uses is rooted in old American movies, but she manages to take it beyond the clichés, so it verges on Theatre of the

Meckler’s championing of Fornes resulted in another play, Abingdon Square, transferring to the Royal National Theatre, boding well for this first chance for Scottish audiences to

discover her strange and lyrical use of language. In November, Fornes herself will be taking a playwritlng masterclass at the Traverse as a prelude to taking part in the Manchester City of Drama events.

But ten years on, what political resonances does The Danube still have? ‘The whole idea that man Is destroying the physical world is very relevant,’ says Meckler. ‘We’re still worried about what to do with nuclear waste, and there are problems with the ozone layer that we can’t correct. it’s difficult for theatre to address issues sometimes, but Fornes manages to turn these issues into an experience.’ (Neil Cooper)

The Danube, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, 1-5 Nov; Masterclass with Maria Irene Fornes, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 22-26 Nov.

The List 21 October—3 November 1994 51