Grit: The Martyn Bennett Story
A populist, patriotic and disappointingly folk biopic from Cora Bissett and Kieran Hurley
Grit is not just a hagiography of folk musician Martyn Bennett: it is a declaration of Scottish cultural supremacy. A mash-up of direct story-telling – Kieran Hurley's script is a recitation of episodes from Bennett's sadly short life with choreographic interludes set to his driving, inspiring tunes and psychedelic video projections – Grit is unashamedly sentimental and presents a patriotic pride in Bennett's idiosyncratic fusion of electronic and traditional music.
Unfortunately, the script is simplistic: Bennett is transformed into a stereotypical romantic artist, battling the prejudice of the Royal Academy of Music and Arts and the conservatism of the folk establishment before finding popular and critical acclaim. In the focus on Bennett – played solidly by Sandy Grierson – other characters and the social context are cast aside. His wife becomes a cypher, chuckling at her husband's brilliance and the fertile rave scene – which was already incorporating elements of 'world music' long before Bennett's fusion – is reduced to a backdrop for Bennett's unique genius.
Although the script begins with an assertion that the story has 'no ending' (a line Hurley used in Rantin, and can be found in The Cheviot, The Stag and The Black Black Oil), the narrative is classic artistic biography. Within this uninspired framework, Dana Gingras injects powerful moments of choreography – dynamic, contorted, ferocious routines that go some way to lend a conflicted subtext to Bennett's struggles. Although the acrobatic interlude is more a collection of tricks than an emotional illustration of the music, the dancers embody the tensions of both life and art.
The technique of addressing the audience to narrate the story offers intimacy and clarity (including lectures on the diagnosis of cancer to the politics of 1990s student cliques) but becomes didactic through repetition. Grit is populist, patriotic and turns Bennett into a Monarch of the Glen style icon of Scottishness. The standing ovation is unsurprising – the play aims at the heart, complete with a boy piper finale – but converting grit into glitter makes for a disappointing shallow production.
Tramway, Glasgow, Tue 3–Sat 7 Jun.