Jeremy Raison - The Sound of My Voice
Steve Cramer talks to Jeremy Raison about consumerism and spiritual emptiness in his adaptation of Ron Butlin’s debut novel
Perhaps it’s merely a coincidence, but it seems somehow appropriate that the Citizens’ Theatre production of The Sound of My Voice should premiere exactly 40 years after the Paris disturbances of May 1968. For this great outcry was not about a lack of wealth, but a surplus of it. The common bourgeois pieties of consumer acquisition and the nuclear family were identified by the massed young protestors of this period as the source, not of happiness, but despair and collective neurosis.
So too in Ron Butlin’s novel of 1987. A man reaches a crisis in his life, his soul buried deep under his accumulation of consumer goods, his emotional capacities stunted by family history and alcohol. ‘He’s got a very high powered job, he’s young, he’s doing very well outwardly, he’s got lovely kids, but his life is clearly falling apart,’ explains adaptor/director Jeremy Raison. ‘He’s just kept moving forward. This man seems to have everything, but he comes to this point where he says, “I don’t know who I am and what I want out of life.” I think it’s very relevant. Irvine Welsh said it’s a Thatcherite story, though Butlin said he hadn’t thought about that much when he was writing it.’
Welsh had a role to play in the novel re-emerging after an initially small print run, and is not Butlin’s only admirer among his fellow writers. ‘It was reissued in 2002, after Irvine Welsh found it in a bookshop,’ Raison explains. ‘He was asked by the Village Voice to name his favourite Scottish novel, and this was his great undiscovered book, which gave it the recognition it deserved. Welsh and people like Ian Rankin were extraordinarily complimentary about it.’
Raison is interested in the post-Thatcher value systems that have brought the central character to his crisis. ‘My kids are quite driven about what’s expected of them and getting things like exam results just now, and they’re really not encouraged to ask questions. That has progressively got worse since Thatcher came in. These days, it’s, “OK, I’ve finished education, I need to get a job, and if I’m going to get my first flat I’d just better get my head down and get on with it.” At 14, people are already looking at the first jobs they can get to put on their CV. I didn’t really think about what I was going to do all through my twenties.’
The character’s alcoholism also seems germane. ‘The most interest we’ve had around it so far is people saying, “oh, it’s about an alcoholic, I’ll come and see it”, which I didn’t expect. But Butlin says it’s not really about an alcoholic, it’s about a man facing a crisis, and that’s part of it. The novel is structured in such a way that it’s very much at a point in his life where he has to face up to his alcoholism. It clearly has a relevance in Scotland; the government has plainly made alcohol its number one problem to tackle, above drugs.’ This studio production looks like asking significant questions of consumer society at a time where the pure materialism of our lifestyle is very much open to question.
The Sound of My Voice, Citizens’ Theatre Stalls Studio, Glasgow, Tue 20 May–Sat 10 Jun.