Thomas Butler, The Arches, May 22nd
The audience trail through the Arches’ warren of dimly lit tunnels until we arrive at a very small studio.
The sound of trains rattling overhead sets the scene for the performance to come: a story of Glasgow past and present, and of the shocking mid 20th century plans to demolish the city centre and replace it with functional, futuristic, grey concrete housing and other amenities.
But first, as a prelude to Elbow Room, is a clarinet performance from the incredibly virtuosic Yann Ghiro. An extremely talented musician, he pushes the instrument to its limits and certainly whets the audience’s appetite for the show to come.
With Elbow Room, Butler works to break the boundaries of contemporary music by combining it with video, still images and lighting effects. Thus the ensemble sit in a recess behind a translucent screen, upon which footage of Glasgow – from the films Glasgow Today and Tomorrow and Glasgow 1980 – is projected.
Maybe it’s the plummy BBC-style English accents that comment on the cramped living conditions and the need for more “elbow room” alongside footage of Glasgow’s unique architecture and shots of happy children playing in the streets, but the whole performance makes you realise how misunderstood Glasgow is, and always has been. Sure it’s a little gritty, but Glasgow is great! With a strong history as a working class city, it radiates energy and character – something that was clearly not taken into account by those who made the sensible, practical, yet totally horrific plans to replace the entire city with an eerie, uniformly grey “utopia” that we see on the screen before us.
The performance is essentially about the illusions and reality of city life. It is about the strange glamour of Glasgow that lies beneath its gritty exterior that seems incomprehensible to all but those who live here. The dreamlike atmosphere created by the fusion of music from the highly talented Red Note Ensemble, and visuals projected on the screen in front of them is mesmerising to say the least.
Overall, a highly polished and thought-provoking performance.