Arts Review: Colquhoun and MacBryde

Dir. Andy Arnold, Tron, 29th Oct – 8th Nov

‘Tell me it wasnae me who was sick all over the arts critic from the Telegraph?’

‘Naw, that was meeeeee!’

The two Roberts, Colquhoun and MacBryde, were never ones to sook up to the critics, yet John Byrne’s homage to two of his Glasgow School of Art predecessors and idols, is a surprisingly affectionate insight.

Byrne takes us from the lovers’, artistic partners’ and general reprobates’ Glasgow “studio” where they landed after art school, along their European travels, which the rumbling of the second world war inconsiderately cut short, to their arrival and grip on the London art scene.

Along the way the ‘hedonism’ promised is undercut by the charm, talent, and overwhelming love of the pair. Rather than the caricatured and somewhat intimidating artwork with which Byrne has accompanied the play since its 1992 debut, the play focuses on their bohemian disregard for the establishment as an aspect of their devotion to each other and their work, rather than an out of hand dismissal of their contemporaries (who they do affirm, however, are mostly shite).

This allows for a fast-paced comedy of wit and exuberance which is countered not by nastiness or selfishness, but rather by their peculiar attitude to the war effort (both were lucky enough to avoid active service, though neither would identify as ‘conchies’) and their struggles to remain working artists after their stint as London’s art darlings runs dry. While they rocketed their way to fame, after nearly starving to death outside a London gallery, they burn a little too bright, and are a little too Glaswegian to last long within the establishment.

Andy Clark and Stephen Clyde’s portrayal of the pair (as Colquhoun and MacBryde respectively) adds to their warmth, as Clark’s asides to the audience make us accomplices in their fun, making sure we’re never left behind. Exhilarating though this initially is, it leaves us in a vulnerable place when the pair’s inevitable demise becomes clear. Andy Arnold’s direction avoids any shock-factor or tale-of-warning as the play closes on a final image of pathos, which signals the end of the road for the two Roberts, the inimitable Colquhoun and MacBryde.

[Caitlin MacColl – @turningtoaverse]

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