- Eddie Harrison
- 10 August 2018
Multiple monologues on the subject of male mental health
The year is 2014, the time is December, and the setting is the George Square / Queen Street area of Glasgow. A violent incident involves four very different men; including a Polish hot-dog vendor at a Christmas market; a member of the clergy; and a homeless man. An act of kindness turns into an act of violence, and all of those involved are marked by their involvement in different ways.
Written by Sally Lewis, whose 2016 Fringe success How is Uncle John? examined the weighty issue of sex-trafficking, Glasgow '14 takes on male mental illness as its subject, performed as a series of interlocking monologues by Neil Gwynne. Billed in a rather grandiose Toast of London fashion as 'master of the monologue', Gwynne is a forceful, skilled performer who takes on each role with real verve, slipping in and out of character as the lighting changes, and demanding attention under the director, Benet Catty.
But there's an unfortunate and significant problem with Glasgow '14, and it starts with the title. For most people, it summons a very specific shared-memory: the loss of life caused by an out-of-control vehicle that killed six people and injured fifteen. To be clear, Lewis doesn't attempt to deal with the bin lorry tragedy in an overt way, but her play evokes the time and date setting of a real-life happening in a way that constantly distracts the audience from her purpose.
Having one character mistakenly call the setting 'St. George's Square' doesn't help much either. The PTSD theme allows for some flexibility in how the characters might understand what they're seeing, but putting together a jigsaw of a fictional tragedy against the background of a real one is a genuine error of judgment; it's hard to comment on what the play says when the audience has a full-time job unscrambling the fictions from the grim shadows of the factual.
Lewis is a skilled writer, and Gwynne clearly relishes the chance he's given; that said, Glasgow '14 needs a re-think before it goes any further. A few lines clarifying the specific purpose and limiting the focus of the show would work wonders for any reading of this text.
theSpace @ Surgeons's Hall, until Aug 18 (not 12), 8.10pm £10 (£8).