Spend a Penny (5 stars)

The Arches, Glasgow, until Sat 7 Oct


I suppose toilets, perhaps particularly public ones, are places where we must confront the truth of the body. A good place then, to set theatre, since this too, at its best, confronts uncomfortable truths. Andy Arnold’s deft, witty and thoroughly engaging production of eight short monologues then, incorporating the same number of actors and writers seems on reflection an inspired choice. In naval parlance, this is truly a Talking Heads show, and richly rewarding it is.

The Gents’ half runs the gamut of humour and pathos, with the former brilliantly represented in the bawdy and inevitably scatological ‘Good Karma’ by Lynsey Murdoch. Here, a bloke (Ross Stenhouse) with an unfortunate propensity for pickles has an unexpected meeting with his ex wife, the stress bringing on the urgent need for a Forrest Gump, and you’re the person locked in the cubicle and impeding him. Yea verily, for him, the quality of strain is not mercy. Stenhouse’s performance is as richly comical as Jackie Wylie’s is hypnotically engaging in Megan Barkerís ‘Bernie’, the sordid but fascinating tale of a woman who crosses barriers of gender and sexuality at a gay club. Along with the dark observation of violence in James Kelman’s ‘Man to Man’ and a witty existential piece by DC Jackson about meeting death in the cludgey we see four pieces, all well performed.

But if Gents’ is strong, Ladies is even better, with Grant Smeaton’s transsexual dealing as much with other people’s identity issues as her own in Liz Lochhead’s ‘Not Changed’, a truly compelling performance of a brilliant little diamond of a script. Add to this a psychologically very plausible reflection on workplace anxieties by the always watchable Morag Stark in ‘Out Damned Spot’ by Linda Radley, and ten minutes of theatre alone would be worth journeying hours for. Perhaps surprisingly, David Harrower’s ‘The Refusal’, about appetites and institutions is the weakest script, yet there is rich compensation in the form of Jill Riddiford, an actress who could read the text on a Starbucks cup and make it absolutely engrossing. Add to this Julie Brown’s performance as a woman equally afflicted with illness and a useless partner in Frank Deasy’s ‘Kylie’s Eggs’ and you’ve got an absolutely outstanding night of theatre.

Perhaps the sheer, almost uncomfortable proximity of the actors helps to create atmosphere, yet each and every performance seemed commendable, a tribute to both the actors and Arnold. As with last autumn, The Arches have staked a strong claim for the best night of theatre this side of Christmas, and all on a shoestring.

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