“The overall tone went a long way to suggesting that if the voice of the people is the voice of God, then stepping aboard a tram may incur the wrath of heaven.”
“You’ll have had your trams.” Not since Aneirin, court poet at Din Eidyn in the sixth century, rhymed ‘Ywain’ and ‘cairn’ has a line so pithily captured local frustration. The intervening history is spectacularly dotted with SNAFUs – Flodden, the muddleheaded wombatry of Edinbuggers during the ‘45, lacking Nashville’s knack of reconstructing Parthenons, and of course the reinstallation of the trams ripped out during the mid-twentieth century’s fetish for civic self-harm.
Joe Douglas, he of Educating Ronnie fame, has been out and about interviewing folk for their take on the city’s 7 year itch. Douglas arranged the material, collected from sources in and out of the loop, into 50 minutes of dramatically rendered vox pop. The overall tone went a long way to suggesting that if the voice of the people is the voice of God, then stepping aboard a tram may incur the wrath of heaven.
We enter to find an upright piano, manned stage right by David Paul Jones; a fluorescent jacket hanging on a coat stand far upstage centre; and two chairs downstage, leftish, occupied by Nicola Roy and Jonathan Holt. To the sound of Jones’ seductive tickling of the ivories – “Once I built a railroad, now it’s done, Brother, can you spare a dime?” – Roy and Holt set out to distill Douglas’ captured voices into a lotion of essential oil.
It’s not always clear if this balm is intended to soothe or aggravate. At times I get to wondering where lies the line between satire, sackcloth and ashes. Tribal identity is a strange thing. If a bloke’s kickball team teeters on the edge of relegation he feels personally embarrassed. If his cooncil ignorantly mismanages a major infrastructure project he feels personally shamed.
Several of the interviewees argued that the trams would damage Edinburgh’s reputation. Perhaps I am too divorced from the starched self-regard of the city’s professional classes, but I suspect globetrotters will not be crossing Auld Reekie off their to do list because of the trams – it would be like avoiding the Nuit Blanche festival because Toronto’s mayor likes the hard stuff.
Roy and Holt heave and rally, dragging up the dead weight (after all there is only so much entertainment to be drawn from the politics of civil engineering) with style and flare. Watching them is like observing a competitive game of dress up, as each leaps into the voice (if not always the movement) of the character they are inhabiting.
Roy was flawless: dynamic control matched by a powerful delivery. Holt might have been this too, only his villainous German contractor accent (surely there was comedy gold to be had there) was so bad he’d have struggled to be admitted to the cast of ‘Allo ‘Allo!
My old Newcastle People’s Theatre pal Tom Saunders on the sound and lighting desk did what he does best, being artful without being showy. Despite the minimalist staging, Saunders created 3 distinct spaces with an interplay of sparingly applied foundation. If, for the sake of a Cancer Research promoting selfie, this production decided to do without his makeup it might well have appeared noticeably more harassed and haggard.
This was a serious-minded production for serious-minded people. Although I didn’t stay for the after show talk, I had a prior engagement to gnaw my own leg off, I would like to have seen Douglas producing something beyond the earnest range he conquered in Educating Ronnie. He does a great line in upfront sincerity – as does Edinburgh’s most recent famous son, Tony Blair.
The use of recorded prompts feeding into the ears of Roy and Holt was a bold move. It provided meaty monologue on short notice, might have gone horribly wrong, but paid off handsomely. For all that Holt isn’t going to be playing Willy Brandt any time soon, (he does a fine impression of his director BTW), both he and Roy demonstrated a discipline under pressure matched only by their lightness of touch. The clay rose from their wheel into an innovative, engaging piece of fringe theatre.
Reviewer: Dan Lentell (Seen 19 March)
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