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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Clutter Keeps Company theatre review

Published in Northings

Clutter Keeps Company

Tramway, Glasgow, 17 February 2010, and touring

THIS IS the second play on the trot in which writer Davey Anderson has used storytelling as his key technique. Like his spirited version of the adventures of Zorro at Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre before Christmas, Clutter Keeps Company requires the actors to slip in and out of character and take turns as a narrator.

It means all the action happens in a "he said/she said" frame, an approach that plays to theatre's strengths. It encourages direct audience address, fast scene changes and a dressing-up box atmosphere that allows us to accept an actor as a middle-aged mum one moment and a teenager the next.

Fellow playwright David Greig has used the same technique, most recently in his hit comedy Midsummer and also in his teenager-friendly Yellow Moon. It is this play that Clutter Keeps Company most closely resembles, and not only because actor Keith Macpherson starred in both.

The two plays concern a son trying to reconnect with a long-lost father after a spot of criminal behaviour (in this case more imagined than real) and a trek to a far-away Scottish destination (Greig chose a Highland estate, Anderson goes for Millport). They both regard teenage experiences as worthy dramatic material.

But where Greig used his story to explore the pressure on teenagers to conform or rebel, touching on big issues such as self-harm along the way, Anderson is much less clear about what is at stake for his characters.

Money is tight for Nicola Miles-Wildin's single mother, but you could hardly regard her treatment of her children – Stevie (Scott Fletcher) and Julie (Jo Freer) – as neglect. Julie's romance with fairground worker Jim (Macpherson) looks like it will lead her into trouble, but he is not as sleazy as he at first appears and nothing comes of it. The arrival of a family of Mormons next door is similarly without friction.

The only possible source of dramatic tension is Stevie's Asperger syndrome, but even this amounts to little more than a penchant for tidiness and a liking of big numbers. You could argue his obsessive behaviour triggers the events of the play – he gets into trouble after trailing his sister to Jim's deserted fairground – but it would be harder to say that the story resolves anything, either to do with his medical condition or his family relationships.

This failure to establish a central dilemma makes Clutter Keeps Company seem purposeless, which in turn, despite the lively presentation by Birds of Paradise, makes it feel much longer than the 80-minute running time.

Clutter Keeps Company visits Mull Theatre, Tobermory (23 February); Taynuilt Village Hall (24 February); An Lanntair, Stornoway (26 February); New Deer Public Hall, Turriff (2 March); Dornie Hall, Dornie (4 March); Hopeman Memorial Hall (6 March); Tullynessie & Forbes Hall, Alford (16 March).

© Mark Fisher 2010


eilish said...

i saw this theatre production last nght with the young carers group. i found it great how the actors could change the setting and themselves. they knew their lines perfectly and it was really enjoyable.i loved it.
we've been told we're going to meet the cast on tuesday too. i love it.

Mark Fisher said...

Thanks for your comment, Eilish.