Sunday, 12 July 2015

Mayfesto: A New Theatre Festival for Glasgow 2011

In 2010, Andy Arnold’s decision to programme the inaugural Mayfesto as a festival of political theatre now seems prescient: the last year has seen major changes in the political landscape, including a wave of unexpected student activism, the collapse of the Liberal Democrats as a meaningful alternative to the sterile dualism of Labour and Conservative in England, and a round of arts cuts that successfully combined ideological intention with the cant of necessity’s demands. 

While the range of last year’s selections took a broad view of politics – Rhymes with Purple took on the torture of suspected terrorists, while Gappad looked at the social alienation that can cause a mother to kill her child – 2011’s programme steps back from the explicitly political. With contributions from Ireland, Wales and Scotland, the theme is more Celtic Nations than British Revolution.

Politics hasn’t slipped entirely off the agenda – a programme packed with Irish work would not be complete with a piece or two about the troubles, including Scottish legends Communicado doing a rehearsed reading of Ten Men Dead, focussing on the Republican hunger strike. The return of Wildcat and 7:18 veterans Dave Anderson and Sandy Nelson for “a night of political comedy, music and Mayhem” as A Bunch of Five’s It’s A Dead Liberty revives the songs, sketches and spirit of Scotland’s most famous political agitators. Apart from giving credence to the frequent comparisons between 2011 and the early 1980s – as if the riots in London weren’t enough – A Bunch of Fives links up cabaret with politics, a far too rare alliance since the burlesque revival.
Andy Arnold, both as a curator and director, has always had an enthusiasm for Irish theatre: he made his name through his versions of Beckett at The Arches. Unsurprisingly, this Mayfesto is loaded with Irish companies. The wonderful Fishamble, who brought Forgotten to Dance Base at the Fringe in 2008, bring back their kabuki inspired contemplation on old age. This gentle, yet biting, one man show demonstrates how physical theatre can bring life to the monologue. Pat Kinevane’s transitions from pensioner to pensioner are astonishing and moving, and a reminder never to discount the geriatric. Blue Raincoat made their name as Flann O’Brien’s premier stage adaptors with The Third Policeman: they return with At-Swim-Two-Birds for more surreal word play and supremely imaginative theatricality.
Mayfesto maintains a high level of social engagement at a time when some theatres are considering backing off the serious stuff, and letting the audience away with a laugh and wistful moral. Given that the cuts hitting the nation are currently threatening at least one space and the Physical Theatre course run by Al Seed, it is difficult not to take sides. If Mayfesto refuses to play the obvious card, and throw out all manner of dialectical pomposity, it at least encourages the idea that theatre is a place where social issues can get an airing.
Mayfesto, A New Theatre Festival for Glasgow takes place from Wed 4-Sat 28 May, Tron Theatre

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