Shadow of a Gunman, The

  • The List
  • 30 October 2006

Under western minds

Steve Cramer detects the smuggling in of some radical ideas between the lines of the Citizens’ Theatre’s production of The Shadow of a Gunman.

There’s a good deal of talk about our right to free speech from contemporary politicians, yet to any thinking person the limits of this benefit in contemporary bourgeois democracy are self evident. We have the right to say what we wish, but only after a rigorous form of social programming has been put in place by the mainstream media, which generally guarantees self-censorship in its citizenry long before the police need to be called.

So it is in our treatment of the current war. It is not that we are prevented from discussing it - it is difficult to escape the images which recur in our news, even if any close up imagery of suffering and the inflicting of death and injury on the ground are carefully censored. But any story told is narrated from the point of view of the colonisers in places like Iraq. In film few tales have been told from the point of view of the people of the invaded country - even ‘liberal’ filmmakers might speak of the suffering of the people of these economic colonies, but they are mainly seen from the point of view of soldiers, CIA operatives and so forth.

The same, perhaps less forgivably, is true of the theatre. The NTS’ Black Watch spoke of the suffering of soldiers at the hands of our rapacious politicians and corporations, and rightly so, for the working classes of the west are unquestionably also colonised, but where are the brave attempts to wriggle free of the psychological jailhouse of western perspectives? A couple of our smaller scale companies, mainly operating from such venues as the Arches, have shown enough liberation from the shackles our minds have imposed to attempt such experiments, but no major Scottish company has come near or by this approach.

Perhaps our larger companies, fearing the chagrin of their funders, are reduced to the kind of ‘smuggling’ activities of the Jacobeans, where, in the work of such writers as Webster and Ford, radical messages were carefully hidden under new versions of old stories. It seems that this kind of ‘smuggling’ is these days done under the guise of well established repertory stock. Perhaps the most courageous piece of programming of this kind in recent times is the new Citizens’ theatre production of O’ Casey’s The Shadow of a Gunman, directed by Philip Breen.

The parallels with a place like contemporary Baghdad are striking. A colonised country on the brink of Civil War? We need say little else. In it, we meet a couple of working class men sharing a room; one of them conspicuously fails to correct the assumption made by his fellow tenement dwellers that he’s an IRA man on the run from the Black and Tans. It gives him tremendous kudos, and attracts the attention of a fetching young lass. But the tenement comes under suspicion from the authorities after a real IRA man uses it for an arms dump. The victims, as ever in O’Casey’s world, are innocent members of the working class. The Citz is to be congratulated for making theatre which speaks from the point of view of the colonised, and doesn’t render them as shadowy victims of greater powers. Instead, O’Casey is unpatronising and unsentimental about these flawed but sympathetic and fully drawn characters - for once the soldiers are the shadowy figures.

Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, Fri 3-Sat 18 Nov.

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