Dir. Alex McKendrick, Untitled Projects, The Arches Behaviour Festival, 26th-29th March
Untitled Projects’ Cain’s Book is something of an endurance task for the audience. Coming in at three hours, it is the longest piece in this year’s Behaviour Festival programme. The company are very sorry that last year’s version was only two hours long. They’ll do their best to make it up to you, particularly by enticing you to stay through the two intervals with dancing, music, sex, drugs and basically anything you might want.
An adaption of Alexander Trocchi’s cult novel, the play is littered with long and impassioned speeches and readings taken straight from the novel. The first act is, admittedly, slow. It takes time to get used to the intensity of the words and, at points when they are all you have, without a visual stronger than watching the three performers read, it is hard to find yourself within the performance, to find something to hold onto.
As Act Two takes place, however, that lethargy is gone. The three performers repeat the same scene over and over, each promising to kick, whilst film clips depicting scenes from the novel intersperse their words. It is clever, funny and chilling to see the lives of these addicts, Joe Necchi the protagonist, depicted by images of children with bottles of cola to represent the drugs. Untitled Projects hold nothing back.
Act Three begins with live music from Glasgow avant-rock group Smack Wizards. They are loud, talented, and well-suited to Trocchi’s work. The audience members who remain (for it must be noted that many left during the intervals) have been offered ear plugs, but few seem to be using them. The three actors finally return, and make sure you will never not be humming or singing Carbon the Copy Cat in one way or another. Their use of repetition is such a simple tool to represent addiction and the need to return to something time and time again, but it is still incredibly powerful. It reduces it to something the audience can all understand, without detracting in any way from the subject matter.
Ross Mann in particular shines throughout this production. The speed, power and passion with which he delivers Trocchi’s long speeches is admirable and at no point can his complete embodiment of the role be questioned. However, to have Joe played by three very different actors, with Lou Prendergast and Ian Harmore alongside Mann, is a solid device to show that, while this is one man’s tale, it could happen – and it did happen – to anyone.