Arches Festival of Theatre

Arching Ambition

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Steve Cramer looks at this year’s Arches Festival of Theatre, and finds its most compelling programme ever

From the very beginning Andy Arnold’s Arches has actively encouraged young theatre artists, providing a space for experiment and creativity that’s unparalleled in Scotland. But the innovators have come from well beyond our borders, with UK-wide and international artists increasingly participating. In the past, there’s been an understandable hit-and-miss quality to some of the work, but the standard has shown an increasingly steady improvement. This year’s festival looks set to be the highest quality offering to date.

The highlights are many, but surely the most exciting appearance this year are the young practitioners from TEAM. The New York-based company were the sensation of the 2006 Fringe with Particularly in the Heartland, a piece which tells the story of three orphans in the rural midwest, who are adopted by the resurrected shade of Bobby Kennedy, a space alien and an East Coast businesswoman. From this bizarre scenario there arises a sweet, at times boisterously humorous, and always thought provoking allegory about the state of these young people’s nation.

Another hot ticket from New York is the splendidly entertaining cabaret turn, Taylor Mac. Mac pushes the boundaries of a conventional drag act so far that it barely belongs to the genre. His comedy and song move into some edgy areas, while his costumes are half affront, half homage, seemingly, to the work of Lee Bowery. Another international act that looks equally rambunctious, though in quite a different manner, is Russian company Ahke, whose techno-punk style in Plug and Play includes urging the audience to pelt them with vegetables. Get a ticket, but wear your old togs.

Or someone else’s, given the exploration of sexual and gender issues which the Irish company Pan Pan promises to bring to the party with a contemporary rendering of an ancient drama in Oedipus Loves You.

Meantime, more locally, Poorboy, the splendid site-specific company responsible for such treats as Learning the Rules of Chinese Whispers will return with a new piece, Spanglebaby, which looks at the modern, grotesquely individualist success ethic through online and actual self improvement programmes. Meanwhile Al Seed and Ben Faulks, two Arches regulars with an avant garde outlook, will be portraying the lives of the strolling player in Endurance, a metaphysical comedy featuring two old boys hauling a piano through an, at times, alien landscape.

The festival will kick off with the two Arches directors award winners. One, Cora Bissett is, of course, already widely respected as an actress of formidable talent, and here presents Amada, an adaptation of an Isabel Allende short story, featuring live music and many a dark sensual rhythm in its tale of endurance from a member of the world’s oldest profession. Kellagher presents Mother, Father, Son a dark but touching story of a son who has spent years locked in a room, communicating only by knocks with his parents outside.

Arches, Glasgow, Tue 10-Sat 21 Apr.

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