Suffering from Scottishness – Assembly Roxy

Written by Kevin P Gilday

Runs at Assembly Roxy until August 26th (Not 13th or 20th), 17.10pm

Irn Bru, Grand Theft Auto, Nessie, Haggis, the Telephone, Lewis Capaldi, Pride, Sense of Humour and the highest drug death rate in Western Europe Annie Lennox. With all of these things, why the hell wouldn’t you want to be Scottish?

Ever thought to yourself; “I know what would fix this country”, well, now you have the chance to prove yourself in envisioning a brand-new Scottish Citizenship Test. It’s an honour, you know. To be lucky enough to have a hand in fashioning the history of this magnificent country’s borders.  

Suited and booted, Kevin P. Gilday is here on behalf of a government body to gauge our responses to a vital question: Just what does it mean to be Scottish? Suffering from Scottishness is a part of HighTide’s Disruption, which sees six contemporary pieces presented in partnership with Assembly. In a turn of Orwellian ingenuity, Suffering from Scottishness is both social experiment and theatrical plaything.

If you’ve never seen Gilday before, you’ll quickly realise why he is an award-winning writer and spoken word artist. In particular, his control of poetry is a selling feature of the production above its unique concept. A well placed spoken word can turn a sea of people in a way a written one can only dream.

Nationalism. It’s a bit of dirty word these days. Wasn’t always, still has redeeming qualities, but quite often it now goes hand in hand with a sense of blindness. Blindness to see that Scotland has issues, so does the rest of the world, but we’re ignoring several life-threatening ones on our doorstep.

Audience interaction. The make or break of a production. Luckily, Gilday knows precisely where to gauge the level. Instead of directly involving the audience, he looks for their assistance, still seating, it draws us all in closer.

Everyone is now on even footing, we’re engaging together, not watching separately. If anything, there isn’t enough involvement – one suspects more is the plan, after testing waters.

Light-hearted, uplifting and a bit of fun, Suffering from Scottishness also has a ripple of commentary. It’s a mirror, which at first capitalises on Scotland’s idiosyncratic features – only for the glass to shatter, revealing the motive underneath. It’s a compelling play, with a profound poet notion, not only to its words but its concept.

Tickets available from: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/suffering-from-scottishness

Ane City – Assembly Roxy

Written by Taylor Dyson

Directed by Calum Kelly

Runs at Assembly Roxy, August 10th – 26th, 14.20pm

Dundee. Home of Jam, Jute and Journalism. It also just so happens to have the highest cases of drug-death in Europe. Austerity, lowest life-expectancy in Western Europe and yet, a fiercely proud city, in its way.

Drawing inspiration from the town’s motto; ‘Ane City, Many Discoveries’, Taylor Dyson writes about coping with an identity crisis – something concerning a growing number of young adults today, particularly those from a working-class background.

On a night out in Dundee, finally able to catch up with her pals, Taylor finds herself a stranger in her homeland. Disconnecting with her sister, missing out on her friend’s latest stories, but cannot return to her destructive life in Glasgow.

Once you fly the nest, can you ever return home? If you do, chances are it won’t be the same. It’s a bard’s tale, Dyson relying on her uncanny abilities in rhyme and verse with excellently explosive vocals.

If at any point you thought you could miss Fatties, The Overgate or even nights outside Seagate bus station – I’d have said you’re mad. Dyson describes the city of discovery with the honesty it deserves, Hilltown n’ all. Deeply personal, there are no falsehoods to Ane City, putting its heart on the table.

Taking inspiration from ABBA, Ane City’s soundtrack comprises parodies of famous tunes with Dyson’s wording to tie it into the narrative. Vocally, she has an aggressive, emotive voice which is perfect for the tone. Accompanying her is guitarist, also director, Calum Kelly, earning his keep with a pleasant score.

Freshly grown Elfie Picket Theatre are hitting the scene with bold-personal ideas. Despite the flowing language, a grasp of which is enviable for most spoken word performers, it feels loose. Promising strands misalign, the context of jokes will be lost to some, even if the intention is noble.

What is clear is the fiery, artistic anger of the artistic merits of working-class women who deserve to have the chance to strikeout. It isn’t always perfect, but Ane City has a prevailing start, which glints at the company which will take no prisoners and put their spoken word to the people.

Tickets available at: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/ane-city

Toast – Assembly Roxy

Written by Benjamin Storey

Directed by Ryan Alexander Dewar

Here’s a fun game to play: If you had to choose, which would you rather? Eat nothing but pizza forever, or never have a slice again? How about condiments? Ketchup or Mayo? What’s your favourite utensil? How about choosing between 18 months to live or five years. Appears quite a simple choice, right? Written by Benjamin Storey, who also portrays Joe, Toast features the C-word: Cancer. In their second appearance at Assembly Roxy’s Formation Festival, Interabang Productions examines the stress, anguish and yes, even laughs, a young couple face when one faces the reality of terminal cancer.

In an age of scaremongering headlines, genuine medical advice is overwhelmed by clickbait articles. It’s laced throughout the production through the tubs of ‘pro-life’ butter, Facebook articles and even the title – because burnt toast (as we all know) causes cancer. That’s how Joe likes his toast, feeling that you can’t micro-manage everything, to just chase your dreams. Living with his partner Mel (Rachel Flynn), the two of them share a life we can relate to: soon graduating, arguing over TV and coming to grips with life’s shitty curveballs.

Storey’s performance, as well as his writing, is mortal in composition. There is no place here for melodrama. The points of hyper-reaction are the moments in which we would respond this way. It’s an incredibly subtle performance, channelling the stages of anger, depression and denial we all find in grief. Yet, it’s also strikingly funny; you’ll never find yourself laughing so much at mortality again. The production takes around ten minutes to get into its rhythm, but from this point it’s a powerful piece of turmoil, love and – above all – humanity.

Framed against multiple projected backdrops, the lighting does an enormous job in setting the tone. The clean set design too complements Ryan Dewar‘s straight-forward direction. The use of multimedia adds to the drama’s impact; one critical scene where the narrative moves to a live video-feed, where Flynn and Storey share a tender 3am moment, is as compassionate as it is gut-wrenching.

Following on from her creative and performing role in Interabang’s other production, Being Liza, Rachel Flynn is laying all her talents bare. Toast would simply not work without capable leads. The emotional dexterity demanded by Toast is tough, as both leads not only have to convey cancer’s destructive path but the love these two share. In such a short space of time, Flynn bounces off of Storey, heightening his performance while driving her own. Her natural charm effortlessly conveys to the audience why this relationship works. Getting away with the cheesiest of routines, lifting them into reality, both Flynn and Storey have an uncannily rare ability to capture those genuine moments of realness.

It is in the final moments of the production – in a promise made by Mel to Joe – that Flynn’s ability is evident. Albeit a brief and perhaps predictable scene, the direction, the pain and the connection Flynn achieves with the audience is more transparent than any forced moment of empathy. It’s beautiful in how haunting the ending manages to be.

Toast carries weight to it, which isn’t grotesque enough to put people off but maintains a dignity to be proud of. So what would you do, given the choice? It’s one we would never wish to make, especially so young. Interabang Productions seem to be taking bold steps in their outing productions, not shying away from the raw emotion underneath. Given the evident and commendable talent demonstrated by their performers, writers and creatives, there’s surely a promising future ahead for all involved.

Review Originally published for Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/toast-2/