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Secrets of the gorge

The latest project from Glasgow's genre-splitting performance group NVA is an audio-visual mystery tour into a remote Scottish gorge. It's not for the fainthearted, as an intrepid press pack discovered.

Words: Fiona Shepherd

The Bluffer's Guide To Journalism doesn't cover wading through deep river gorges. or ascending crumbling l9th century steps. But these are the kind of things you experience when you take up a press invitation from the NVA organisation. The company has arranged an excursion to Finnich Glen. near Drymen. the site of their latest ‘happening‘ The Secret Sign.

The official terminology is ‘multi-format environmental animation‘; the user-friendly subtitle is ‘a walk in the dark‘. That‘s exactly what lies in store for thrill-seekers who take the special coaches from Glasgow and Stirling which will convey them at twilight into the gully and the unknown.

At least the press get to witness the glorious landscape in daylight. As we scramble down the hillside in ungainly waders and splash our way into the water. images of Indiana Jones. King Solomon 's Mines and Apocalypse Now coalesce. We are townies playing adventurers for an hour or so —— but that. says NVA’s Angus Farquhar. is the point.

‘The star of the show is the gorge.’ he says. ‘You can’t compete. The main thing for me is. “what does it mean to take a group of people down there?" As town people relating to the country. it opens up the whole nature of Scottishness and how you fit in with that environment.’

‘The star of the Show is the gorge. As town people relating to the country, it opens up the whole nature of Scottishness and how you fit in with that environment.’ Angus Farquhar

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The lost valley: The Devil's Pulpit and (inset) NVA director Angus Farquhar

Or don’t fit in. as the case may be.

“it's very inhuman we're the strangers in that landscape.‘ Farquhar continues. ‘The notion of it being a step into the unknown is really important. because if I was to lay the whole story out from A to Z. it's like saying. “yeah. it was the colonel who did it". You can’t reveal who did the murder. But I certainly hope we go through a whole range of emotions when we’re down there.’

Sheer. lichen-covered rock faces frown claustrophobically over our progress towards The Devil’s Pulpit. a moss-covered mound on which (it was said) only the Devil could alight when the river was in spate. The environment is inherently freakish this sense is enhanced by the discovery of two dead hedgehogs wedged in the rock beside the Pulpit. Ritual sacrifice or suicide pact? We’ll never know.

Farquhar heard of the gorge by word of mouth and found it after a year of searching. lts history is a catalogue of druidic ceremonies. Covenanters' meetings and witches’ sabbats. Farquhar hopes the lore might rub off on visitors. although his veiled audio-visual plans for The Secret Sign have all been inspired by the gully itself. Waders and hard hats are supplied: but those of a nervous disposition needn’t apply.

In addition to this most stimulating of promenade ‘performances’. NVA are currently immersed in programming a National Day for Britain at Expo ’98 in Lisbon. On 28 June. there will be a Royal Gala performance featuring a new piece by Glaswegian composer Craig Armstrong. a massive celebration of British club culture and a midsummer fire festival spanning the 4km site.

‘lt‘s really following on from Beltane.‘ says Farquhar. ‘I feel a fire festival is a really good way of celebrating Britishness. This was a subculture ten years ago. and now it’s being given a chance to appear as the mainstream. Andrew Lloyd Webber. eat your heart out.’

The Secret Sign is performed Sat 9—Sat 16 May, as part of the Funct '98 festival. Access to the site is exclusively by special coach from Glasgow or Stirling. Call 0141 552 4267 for details.

Stage whispers

Bad luck dogs venues of Biblical show - can a curse be at play?

SHORTLY AFTER OUR last issue went to press, Pastor Jack Glass led a demonstration outside the Theatre Royal in Glasgow. America's Reduced Shakespeare Company was visiting the theatre to perform its epic three- man show, The Bible: The Complete Word Of God (Abridged). Naturally, Pastor Glass and members of his following were going to be offended. Naturally, they were going to make their feelings public. The show went on, and on subsequent nights the pickets dwindled, but did the Glassites perhaps have a point?

THE NEXT SCOTTISH VENUE for The Bible is the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh the show is due to play there in June. In common with other venues, the Lyceum has suffered a cut to its grant from City of Edinburgh Council; however, while other arts organisations have been less severely cut, the Lyceum's grant has dropped by £58,000; an unlucky- for-some 13%. The Lyceum has issued a statement threatening to withdraw its show from the Scottish International Children’s Festival in May. ’The last thing we want to is disappoint thousands of children,‘ said the theatre's artistic director Kenny Ireland, 'but with the size of the cut, we simply have no choice.’

AS REPORTED LAST ISSUE, the Assembly Rooms, one of the prime venues for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, has suffered far more brutal financial damage a Council double- whammy of almost doubled rent and almost halved grant, which leaves the budget for Assembly Productions nearly £111,000 under par. A quick glance at the 1996 Fringe Programme reveals that the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s The Bible had its UK premiere in Edinburgh . . . at the Assembly Rooms.

FAR BE IT from us . . . but are they by any chance related? Or is The Bible perhaps the 20th century's answer to Macbeth?

Profits of doom: the Reduced Shakespeare Company in action

16—30 Apr 1998 THE UST 53 L