Theatre review: One Thinks Of It All as a Dream
Syd Barrett story paints a familiar picture in 'feeling turquoise'
Before the beige corduroy of the 70s, there was the paisley pattern psych whimsy of 'the Pink Floyd', led by handsome, charismatic art student Syd Barrett. His flights of fancy and druggy experimentalism led to his sacking by the rest of the band, who were unable to cope with their increasingly erratic front-man.
Alan Bissett's new play is the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival's first theatrical commission. It follows well-known stories about the band, such as creative differences, sessions with unorthodox psychiatrist Dr RD Laing, playing the UFO Club and the infamous primetime interview with uptight Dr Hans Keller, symbol of the old order, asking 'Why does it have to be so loud?'. Of the latter, Bissett turns the clip on its head as the interview descends into lysergic gibberish.
Barrett, it has been said, teetered on the thin line between madness and creativity, and Euan Cuthbertson portrays him as such: a wounded, if eloquent, child-man, staring into the middle distance, present but never quite there. Andrew John Tait's Roger Waters is a more cynical proposition, dismissing the hippy notions of freedom as a mere marketing campaign. The tension between the two old friends registers painfully, particularly when they clash over performing 'See Emily Play' live for US television.
Yet, it's what has been left out that is most telling – like Barrett's relationship with the similarly enigmatic Iggy The Eskimo, or the fact that his first solo album The Madcap Laughs was hugely influential, even during his wilderness years. Where the play succeeds is in its ambiguity, offering no easy answers to how much Barrett was playing the industry, and in depicting how vulnerable he was. There is no happy ending here – just a lost-looking soul with a set of paints and, as Dr Keller suggested, 'a regression back to childhood'.
Òran Mór, Glasgow, until Sat 22 Oct; Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Tue 25–Sat 29 Oct; The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen, Tue 1–Sat 5 Nov