Tag Archives: Creative Scotland

REVIEW: The Incredible Adventures of See Thru Sam

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This article was originally written for and published by The Public Reviews

Writer: Johnny McKnight

Director: Johnny McKnight

The Public Reviews Rating: ★★★★½

Fifteen year old Sam McTannan has a superpower, the ability to make himself invisible: invisible to the cool kids at school, invisible to his teachers and invisible to the girl of his dreams. It’s a superpower he’s really rather happy with, ensuring as it does a pretty quiet life. But one tragic day all that changes when Sam’s beloved parents Chip the Grip and Sheila the Feeler, are killed in a car crash. Sam’s superpowers desert him, placing him firmly centre stage, where he has to deflect the attention of well-meaning teachers, his nemesis Uncle Herbie and the horrific school bully Chunk, boyfriend of his teenage crush Violet.

The Incredible Adventures of See Thru Sam, this heart-breaking, thought-provoking and ultimately life-affirming play comes to us from the assured pen of Johnny McKnight and manages the difficult feat of being genuinely laugh out loud funny and deeply moving in equal measure. It has emotional pull from the very first scene, grabbing you and tugging at your heart strings, pulling you this way and that, throughout the whole 80 minute roller-coaster ride.

To his great credit McKnight never shies away from confronting difficult themes and his fine ear for comic dialogue and finger on the heartbeat of the shunned in society strikes a chord, not only with the high school students in the audience, but all of those who have survived their teenage years.

The actors are universally deserving of praise, Julie Brown and James Mackenzie take on multiple and diverse roles with ease, and manage the lightning quick changes with a slickness that defies belief. Particularly successful are Brown’s perfectly judged portrayal of Mrs. Timmins, the eccentric but well-meaning Home Economics teacher and Mackenzie’s hysterical turn as Sam’s best buddy Walrus. As Sam, James Young carries the weight of the dialogue on his shoulders and manages to switch between direct audience address and dramatic interaction with admirable skill. He is utterly and heartbreakingly convincing as the ill at ease teen negotiating his way through the minefield of growing up, grief and love.

The set design by Lisa Sangster deserves special mention. Through the stunning use of Jamie Macdonald’s ingenious animations and Kim Beveridge’s video design we are not only fully immersed in Sam’s world but also party to his innermost thoughts.

Innovative, emotive and unmissable, I defy you to leave the theatre without a lump in your throat. See it if you can.

Reviewed on 24 September then touring Scotland.

REVIEW: Iron – Tron Theatre, Glasgow

This review was originally written for and published by The Public Reviews.

In Rona Munro’s Iron, lifer Fay has spent the last fifteen years in prison for murdering her husband. For the first time, her now grown-up daughter Josie visits, trying to piece together the fragments of her forgotten past and find out what happened the night her father was killed.

Over time their bond is slowly rebuilt, with Fay attempting to help Josie remember life before Fay was sent down, but Fay’s delight in re-establishing her relationship with her daughter is also overshadowed by her obvious need to live vicariously through her. Despite the prison setting this is fundamentally a story about a relationship between a mother and daughter and the subtle manipulations that can occur between both. Over the course of the piece realisation dawns that both would be much happier if they stayed apart.

The setting is stark, an illuminated rectangle, the prison world outside the walls of the visiting room represented by distant sounds of doors clanging shut and random screams. The air hangs heavy with the grimness of prison life. The staging is by necessity rather static, but director Richard Baron avoids losing the audience’s attention by moving the actors around and providing dramatic contrast in the interactions between the prison guards and some atmospherically lit flights of fancy for Josie and Fay.

Blythe Duff, best known for her role as DC Jackie Reid in Taggart, is acting on the other side of the judicial divide as Fay. Masterfully manipulating both the conversation and the actions of her rediscovered daughter. Duff gives a tour de force performance, skilfully turning the conversation and her emotions on a knife edge, subtly slipping into a warm anecdote a glimpse of the brutal truth of her relationship with her husband, switching from machine gun banter to guarded silence in an instant, it is she who holds the audience gripped throughout. The supporting cast while adept, don’t have the magnetic pull of Duff.

Munro’s writing allows us to get to know these women and to care about what happens to them, painting as it does a grim, heartbreaking insight into prison life and human relationships, but the piece is unnecessarily wordy. The writing is beautifully lyrical and both women speak eloquently of their pains and desires but at two and a half hours long some of the emotional impact and momentum is lost in this otherwise compelling play.

REVIEW: Biding Time (remix), The Arches, Glasgow

This review was originally written for and published by The Public Reviews

Writers: Louise Quinn, Bal Cooke, Ben Harrison, Pippa Bailey

Director: Ben Harrison

Reviewer: Lauren Humphreys

The Public Reviews Rating: ★★★★☆

Pop music, film and theatre often make for uncomfortable bedfellows, in Biding Time(remix), A Band Called Quinn prove that they can happily marry these different disciplines to produce a gloriously original theatrical experience.

This tale of Thyme, a woman with a dream and the journey she takes on her path to success in the music industry, has developed from an audience participatory piece into this more powerful, collaborative work. A Band Called Quinn have taken the framework of Pippa Bailey’s 25 year old source work, but carved it in their own highly original image, with the inclusion of silent disco technology, film and live music.

It takes us from the initial euphoria of getting a record deal, into descent and decline, through; compromise, loss of identity, disconnection from what we hold dear, erosion of confidence, blatant misogyny, to being spat out at the other end of the process once you’ve failed to be the money-making commodity they desire. However cautionary this tale is, it ends optimistically, as the band emerge with their sanity and creativity intact.

The experience of wearing a headset throughout the performance draws the audience fully into the mind of Thyme, tantalisingly giving us the feeling that we are eavesdropping on someone’s dream, indeed so immersed are the audience in this private world, that there is a palpable sense of unease over whether it’s appropriate to applaud throughout lest we break the spell. The inclusion of Uisdean Murray’s dream and indeed, nightmare-like film sequences and the sinister presence of an Alice in Wonderland-like white rabbit, only serve to increase the feeling of having an out of body experience. But the real highlight of the performance is the band’s beautifully crafted music.

This is an innovative attempt at attracting a new audience to theatre and the inclusion of other art forms and technology make it an engaging one, but the real power and impact comes from having writers who have lived first hand this roller-coaster ride and who are brave enough to show us that, in the 25 years since the original piece was conceived, women’s treatment in the entertainment industry has changed little, if at all, and that is what gives the piece a truly authentic and memorable voice.