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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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Monday, February 04, 2013

In an Alien Landscape, theatre review

Published in the Guardian

Birds of Paradise
Two stars

HALF an hour along the Clyde from Glasgow, the Beacon is a handsome new arts centre with a 500-seat main auditorium and a 100-seat studio. The artistic director of the £9.5m waterfront complex is Julie Ellen who, by a happy accident, is also the director of this opening production by the touring company Birds of Paradise. With its all-white set by Kenny Miller and abstract video projections by Neil Bettles, it shows off the studio to good effect.Unfortunately, Danny Start's script is rarely as interesting as the story that inspired it.

It is about Albert Quinn, a 50-year-old hardman who, like Start's real-life friend Tommy McHugh, has suffered a double brain aneurysm. When he comes round after the long operation, he has an irresistible urge to paint, sculpt and write. This rare "sudden artistic output" syndrome turns a semi-criminal drug user into a compulsive creator at large "in an alien landscape".

As a neurological phenomenon, this is fascinating. As a piece of drama, it has nowhere to go. Once we have established Quinn has woken up a new man, then what?

Start's solution is to go backwards. In the lead role, Paul Cunningham exists in a world of fragmented memory. His head buzzes with voices – father, wife, fellow patient and alter-ego – and with each fractured scene, Quinn shows us the past that he is leaving behind. Theatre, however, is a present-tense medium and none of this reflection moves the story forward.

Morag Stark, David Toole and Cunningham give spirited performances, but the things that interest us most (the man adjusting to a new personality, the outpouring of creativity) are the things we see least.
© Mark Fisher, 2013
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