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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me @markffisher and @writeabouttheat I am an Edinburgh-based freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian, Scotland on Sunday and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success, published in February 2012 and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers published in July 2015. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide. See my website for more information and comprehensive Scottish theatre links.
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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Smalltown, theatre review 1

Published in Northings

Smalltown

Tron Theatre, Glasgow, 16 February 2011, and touring

NOBODY would doubt the cultural significance of Northings, but even its most avid reader would be surprised by how much it has influenced the latest show by Glasgow’s Random Accomplice. The premise of Smalltown, written in three sections by Douglas Maxwell, DC Jackson and Johnny McKnight, comes directly from a Northings review of McKnight’s Little Johnny’s Big Gay Musical. That review commented on the uncanny similarities between those three writers – all in their 30s, all from Ayrshire and all with a preoccupation with their teenage years – and speculated that there must have been something in the Ayrshire water supply to produce such a coincidence.

Now, at last, we can know the truth. Well, not so much the truth as a hat trick of highly improbable scenarios that demonstrate the effects of contaminated bottled water on the citizens of Girvan (Maxwell), Stewarton (Jackson) and Ardrossan (McKnight). Depending on which writer you believe, the water is proving addictive for the locals and fatal for the tourists; causing Jekyll and Hyde-style mutations in randy teenagers; or turning canteen workers into zombies. And depending on which version you like best, you can vote at the end to see the completion of the story.

As the person who wrote that first review, I should apologise. In no way was it my intention to inspire such a daft and, in many ways, unnecessary piece of theatre. I recognise Smalltown adds nothing to our understanding of human experience. Anyone who seeks enlightenment on the nature of water, Ayrshire or small towns would be better borrowing a book from the library.

If, however, you are in the mood for an intoxicatingly inconsequential night of laughter, I make no apologies at all. Maxwell has described the show as being like the DVD extras from a pantomime, which is true not only in the air of ridiculousness but also in the seasonal feeling of over-indulgence on stuff that’s probably not very good for you. His own play gets closest to satirising the small-town mindset, as Richard Conlon and Anita Vettesse argue over which of them is the most loyal to Girvan, but what animates the audience are comic ideas such as a performing kangaroo with a fatal punch and a set of horror books with titles such as The Ayr Witch Project.

Jackson’s is my favourite of the three. We’re back in the territory of his teen trilogy (The Wall, The Duckie and The Chookie Brae) on a night of loveless first-time sex that takes on a surreal twist when Sally Reid’s Ruby loses her virginity and develops a tail. Reid’s alternating expressions of superiority and bewilderment are a joy.

The joke behind McKnight’s contribution is that his two dinner ladies cannot differentiate between a cause of major panic (a zombie in the freezer) and one of minor organisational irritation (the lack of a black bin liner in the bin). Such are the down-to-earth preoccupations of Trudy and Margaret (Julie Brown and Vettesse) in the face of a national emergency that they come close to driving a stake through the heart of the whole zombie genre.

The cumulative effect of the three plays is to produce giddy uproar in the auditorium, as if the audience has overdosed on E-numbers. It surely can’t be good for you, but it’s an undoubted guilty pleasure.

Smalltown is at Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, on 2 March 2011, and the Lemon Tree, Aberdeen, on 3 March 2011. (Photo: John Johnston)
© Mark Fisher 2011
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