Arts Review: Lanark – A life in three acts

Dir: Graham Eatough, Citizens Theatre, 15 August -19 September 2015

There are few plays which open to as much anticipation or come with as star studded a pedigree as Lanark. Written by Alasdair Gray, adapted by David Greig and directed by Graham Eatough, it’s an almost four hour epic, following an awkward young man called Duncan Thaw (also known as Lanark) as he grows from boyhood to adulthood, attends art school, drops out and experiences a tempestuous affair with a similarly tortured girl called Rima, who he may or may not go on to murder.

In between, said girl turns into a salamander, the fabric of time and space warp and distort and a dystopian vision of Glasgow’s future is literally swallowed up by an uncaring authority in a twisted take on Scotland’s industrial decline under Thatcherism.

The play opens with Act 2 which sees Lanark awaken in a jazz bar full of grotesques including the slimy but charismatic Sludden. After a torrid affair with the melodramatic Rima, his social anxiety begins to manifest in the form of the infectious disease Dragonhide and Lanark is committed to a sinister asylum, staged as a cross between Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Orwell’s 1984.

Act 1 drags us back to Thaw’s childhood, with a stunning performance from Sandy Grierson as the perpetually thwarted artist undermined by his weaknesses and vices. Consumed by his commitment to a religious mural, Thaw begins to spiral out of control, apparently dying in an almost Shakespearean moment of madness.

Finally, Act 3 follows Lanark as he journeys back to his old city, confronting the oily Sludden who has now become Provost of Glasgow, and trying to reconnect with Rima and his infant son, in the process becoming his city’s only hope for survival. As the barriers between fact and fiction threaten to collapse entirely the play culminates in a stunning piece of meta-theatre that has to be seen to be believed. Funny, well-acted and intelligently staged; Lanark is a stunning piece of theatre, translating a seemingly unstageable novel into a lengthy show that forces the audience to question what artistic creation really means.

[Max Sefton – @MaxSefton]

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