At the Edinburgh Festival: I, Tommy by Ian Pattison

 

I, Tommy, written by Ian Pattison and a fixture at the Gilded Balloon Teviot during the Edinburgh Fringe, is based on a political and media saga that shows no sign of ending.  Here’s the story so far:

 

One.  Tommy Sheridan, Scotland’s highest-profile man-of-the-people socialist firebrand, whose opposition to Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax once resulted in him spending six months at Her Majesty’s pleasure in Saughton Prison, gets elected to the newly-created Scottish Parliament in 1999.  Hurrah!

 

Two.  Tommy actually gives a good account of himself during the first term of the parliament.  The well-to-do blethering classes of Middle Scotland (who would sooner cut their own throats than live in the Independent Socialist Republic of Scotland that Tommy espouses) come to see him as a good, if slightly misguided chap, with barrow-loads of integrity.  Even Scotland’s golf-playing tax-exile-in-chief Sir Sean Connery sings his praises.  Hurrah, hurrah!

 

Three.  Tommy’s hard work is rewarded in 2003 when he is re-elected, and five fellow members of the Scottish Socialist Party are newly elected, to the Scottish Parliament.  By now, even the Sunday Post, a D.C. Thomson newspaper whose politics had formerly been somewhere to the right of Vlad the Impaler’s, is printing breathless Hello-style profiles of Tommy at home with his attractive, flame-haired, ex-air hostess wife Gail.  Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah!

 

Four.  Working on the assumption that if something or someone seems to be too good be to be true, it generally isn’t, the News of the World, a newspaper emanating from the evil empire of Rupert Murdoch, starts digging up muck on Tommy.  It claims that Tommy, who is a teetotaller and has always presented himself as being whiter than white (though his habit of spending hours on a sunbed have actually made him oranger than orange) has had an extra-marital affair.  Later, lurid details emerge about him attending a swingers’ club in Manchester.  The Scottish public, who’d always assumed that a swingers’ club was where you went when you wanted to listen to some golden oldies by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Junior, receives a sudden education in what the term actually means.  Boo!

 

Five.  In 2006, Tommy sues the News of the World for libel, wins the case and receives £200,000 in damages.  In some quarters, Tommy is now revered as a saintly knight who managed to slay the fearsome dragon known as Rupert.  Hurrah!

 

Six.  However, by now, Tommy has also fallen out with the Scottish Socialist Party – most of his ex-comrades believed and even gave evidence supporting the News of the World’s allegations.  The split has fatal political consequences for all of them, because Tommy and the SSP’s remaining Members of the Scottish Parliament lose their seats at the 2007 election.  Meanwhile, the News of the World prepares to appeal the previous year’s court decision…   Boo!

 

Seven.  Tommy ends up in court again, accused of telling lies when he accused the News of the World of telling lies about him.  To fund his defence, he appears on Celebrity Big Brother alongside such political, cultural and intellectual heavyweights as La Toya Jackson, Coolio and Verne Troyer, who played MiniMe in the Austin Powers movies.  He is found guilty of perjury and at the beginning of 2011 is sentenced to three years in Barlinnie Prison.  The line on Tommy Sheridan, propounded by an unholy alliance between the Murdoch press and the Scottish Socialist Party and now officially sanctioned by the Scottish courts, is that he’s a duplicitous shag-happy liar.  Boo, boo!

 

Eight.  It’s 2012 and good behaviour in prison wins Tommy an early release.  He vows to clear his name and, with the News of the World closed down (‘put down’ sounds a more appropriate phrase) and Murdoch’s News International company reeling after the phone-hacking scandal, people are prepared to take his protests of innocence a little more seriously than they were a year earlier.  And according to a BBC news report this week, Bob Bird, former editor of the News of the World’s Scottish edition, has been ‘charged in connection with the defamation action of former MSP Tommy Sheridan’.  (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-19409581)  Hurrah…  possibly.

 

Apart from the events of the last few days, Ian Pattison’s play covers all of the above in a comical – or an even more comical – manner and portrays Sheridan the way that the Scottish courts / News of the World / Scottish Socialist Party say he is, i.e. a shag-happy liar.  Note, however, that the story is not yet over and we may possibly have to revise our image of Tommy.  Again.

 

Played by Des McLean, Sheridan as he’s depicted in I, Tommy is a great comic creation – a preening, posing numbskull driven by a gargantuan ego (“All rivers flow into the Sea of Tommy,” he says of his socialist followers and forebearers) and an equally large libido.  Pattison writes his dialogue in a patois combining the vernacular of the Glasgow housing schemes with the rhetoric of deadly-earnest socialism (which Sheridan carries over into his private life, addressing Gail as “Sister wife…”) and McLean is spot-on in his delivery of the resultant Tommy-speak, investing it with the fiery yet somehow monotonous tones of a politician who takes himself way too seriously.  And his left arm seems to spend the play permanently locked in an up-in-the-air clenched fist / Black Power salute.

 

Unsurprisingly, the real Tommy Sheridan is no fan of the play and claims that Pattison has distorted his story.  The writer, he says, “read two books about me…  dishonest, nasty and politically motivated books.”  (http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/tommy-sheridan-says-fringe-play-1271318)  But he should really be worried about Des McLean’s version of him gaining a wider audience, for example, by turning up on television, because it could destroy his political career (or what’s left of it).  Just as the Spitting Image puppet representing 1980s Liberal Party-leader Sir David Steel as a useless pipsqueak midget did serious and lasting damage to Steel’s image among voters, and just as Tina Fey’s portrayal of Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live convinced a lot of people that Palin was a backwoods thicko (though arguably Palin did a good enough job of convincing people herself),  folk could easily confuse McLean’s Sheridan and the real Sheridan, to the latter’s detriment.

 

The humour in the play isn’t especially subtle, with Pattison missing no opportunity to milk a joke out of the material, high-brow or low, satirical or plain coarse.  It’s roughly on par with the level of humour in Spitting Image (which was funny without being particularly clever) or, indeed, in Pattison’s most famous work, the long-running Scottish TV series Rab C. Nesbitt.  What’s important, though, is that the jokes keep coming and most of them are on target, so that the play is funny.

 

Rab C. Nesbitt was, in its day, one of the best things on Scottish television (and its titular character is surely the greatest comic figure produced by Scottish TV in the last quarter-century), but it gradually wore out its welcome, with Pattison relying more and more on the audience’s affection for the characters and exploiting an ever-thickening vein of sentimentality.  Here, however, Pattison has fresh meat to get his teeth into and his comic mojo has been reinvigorated.  Satisfyingly, there’s no sentimentality and the characters are treated mercilessly, including Gail – shown here as an ambitious, scheming but none-too-bright harpy – and Tommy’s eccentric Shirley Bassey-loving mother Alice, who comes across in the play as a demented old bat.  Indeed, such is Pattison’s determination to leave no aspect of the Sheridans unmocked that I’m sure he will be criticised for being both class-ist and religiously prejudiced – he makes fun of Sheridan’s humble Glasgow origins and cracks more than one joke about Gail and Alice’s devout Catholicism.

 

But whether you believe Tommy Sheridan is a sinner or a (sinned-against) saint, he is at the end of the day a politician — and considering who they are, what they do and how much power they can potentially wield, politicians have to be the property of satirists.  Thus, I’m afraid, as in love and war, all’s fair in political satire.

 

At the Edinburgh Festival: Oliver Reed – Wild Thing by Mike Davis and Rob Crouch

 

Before I begin this review, I have to declare a bias.  I’m from the Scottish Borders town of Peebles and people there regard the late hellraising movie star Oliver Reed as an honorary Peeblean.  In 1995, Reed was staying in the area whilst making a film called The Bruce – a sub-Braveheart effort that, like most of Reed’s late-career films, was fairly dreadful – and one day he managed to find his way to the raucous public bar of the Crown Hotel, known to locals as ‘the Croon’, on Peebles High Street.  If you’re to believe the Scottish tabloid press, Reed took such a shine to the Croon, and the regulars of the Croon took such a shine to him, that he took up permanent residency in the bar for the next couple of days.

 

Indeed, the Scottish edition of the Sun printed a front-page headline saying SHAME ON EWE, with a photo underneath of Reed slumped against the inside of the Croon’s front door whilst cradling a toy sheep in his inebriated arms.  Some unsuspecting soul was on the street outside, trying to open the door and get in, and he must’ve been thinking: “What’s blocking this door…?  Oh…  Oh, look…  It’s Oliver Reed.”

 

Thereafter, Reed made Peebles his port-of-call whenever he visited Scotland.  He even elected to spend his sixtieth birthday there in 1998.  And when he died of excess the following year, BBC Radio Scotland sent a reporter to Peebles to interview Peter Cassidy, the owner of the Croon.  During the interview, Peter observed that although Reed had died at the relatively young age of 61, he’d managed to cram into his time on earth twice as many years’ worth of living.

 

My fear when I approached Oliver ReedWild Thing, which has just finished its Edinburgh Fringe run at the Gilded Balloon Teviot, was that the play’s focus would be very much on those 122 years’ worth of ‘living’ – the industrial consumption of alcohol, the partying, the brawling, the hi-jinks with fellow hellraisers like Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins and Keith ‘the Loon’ Moon, the notorious chat-show appearances where he’d turn up in the studio completely trolleyed, the tattoo he famously bore on his penis – at the expense of his film career.  And the first half of that career, at least, was pretty impressive.

 

He started out as a bit-player in the late-1950s British film industry – for example, he was the leader of the teddy-boy gang who beat up Norman Wisdom in The Bulldog Breed.  (Thanks for that, Ollie.)  Hammer Films discovered him and began his development as a star, casting him in both their costumed swashbucklers (Pirates of Blood River, Captain Clegg, The Scarlet Blade and The Brigand of Kandahar) and their internationally famous horror movies (The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll, Paranoiac and The Curse of the Werewolf, which offered the oddly prophetic spectacle of Reed turning into a slavering, out-of-control monster whenever the sun went down).

 

After that, he found proper fame between the mid-1960s and early 1970s making trendy comedies like The System, The Jokers, I’ll Never Forget What’s ’Is Name and Hannibal Brooks for Michael Winner – it’s difficult to believe now, but prior to the bitchy restaurant reviews in the Sunday Times, the car insurance commercials and the Death Wish movies, Winner was regarded as one of Britain’s most promising directors – and making more challenging, sometimes-quite-bonkers fare like Women in Love, The Devils and Tommy for the late, great Ken Russell.

 

In his prime, Reed was unlike any leading man that the British film industry had seen before (or has seen since, for that matter).  He could be charming, he could brood and smoulder, and he could come across as an utter brute: sometimes, all three qualities seemed to exist within his burly frame at the same time.  It’s a shame nobody got around to casting him as Heathcliff in a late-1960s version of Wuthering Heights.

 

In popular terms, his high-water mark was probably Richard Lester’s Musketeers films of the mid-1970s.  The most entertaining versions of Alexandre Dumas’ novel ever made, they managed to be funny, knowing and exciting, and were packed with faces that were iconic in the cinema of the time: as well as Reed, they featured Raquel Welch, Faye Dunaway, Michael York, Christopher Lee and Charlton Heston.

 

Around this time, Reed got the opportunity to make it in Hollywood.  He was offered the role of Quint, the Captain-Ahab-like character in Steven Spielberg’s record-breaking blockbuster Jaws, before it was given to Robert Shaw.  Financially, the role would probably have set him up for life, but he passed on it.  Now I love Shaw’s performance in Jaws, but I consider the possibility of Reed in the role as one of the great might-have-beens of film history.  Can you imagine the film 10 minutes before the end, with the shark leaping up on the boat’s deck, grabbing Oliver Reed and dragging him roaring and cursing beneath the waves, while he beats the beast on its nose with a harpoon?  (Though knowing Reed, he’d probably have been beating it with an empty beer-keg.)

 

An incident in Stringfellow’s nightclub, where he vomited over Steve McQueen, no doubt helped to blow his chances in Hollywood too.

 

By the end of the 1970s, with the British film industry in terminal decline, his career was on the skids.  Although he got the occasional good role – usually thanks to directors who, in different ways, were as maverick as he was, like David Cronenberg, Nicholas Roeg and Terry Gilliam – most of his movies were either so bad they were good (Piers Haggard’s Venom) or so bad they were dismal (Winner’s Parting Shots).  And from this time onwards, he cultivated a grotesque parallel career rampaging about the television chat-show circuit.  He’d turn up on programmes like After Dark, The Word and Aspel and Company, totter around drunkenly, insult feminists and threaten to whip out his penis.  With hindsight, it’s debatable how much of this behaviour was genuine inebriation and how much was playacting.  By then, he was aware that British TV viewers expected – wanted – him to be a drunken hooligan doing outrageous things in front of the cameras, and he didn’t wish to disappoint his public.

 

This warped sense of showmanship was one element in the combustible mixture that powered Reed.  Other elements included a restlessness that came from having an extremely low boredom threshold, a fondness for pranks and japery – no wonder he got on so well with Keith Moon – and a genuine love of boozing in ordinary pubs with ordinary Joes far removed from the well-heeled and pretentious film-industry thespians whom he despised.

 

But it wasn’t quite over for Reed’s film career, for in the late 1990s Ridley Scott came calling and gave him an important role in his sword-and-sandals blockbuster Gladiator.  When you look beyond Scott’s brilliantly-choreographed battle sequences, and beyond Russell Crowe’s pecs, you realise that Reed’s performance as Proximo, the weary ex-gladiator who become’s Crowe’s reluctant ally in his plot against Roman Emperor Joaquin Phoenix, is one of the best things in the film.  Shrewdly, Scott gave him the best lines.  (“Die to be remembered as men!”)

 

It probably would’ve revived Reed’s fortunes as an actor but, alas, he didn’t live to see the end of filming.  While on location in Malta, Reed visited a British-style bar in Valletta called The Pub, got into a major drinking-session-cum-armwrestling-tournament with some sailors from the Royal Navy frigate HMS Cumberland, and suffered a fatal heart attack.  At least how he died was consistent with how he’d lived.

 

Oliver Reed – Wild Thing, written by Mike Davis and Rob Crouch, and with Crouch in the title role, is set in The Pub in Valletta on the last day of Reed’s life.  It has the ageing and soon-to-depart hellraiser reminiscing about, and sometimes acting out, the highlights of his life.  Thankfully, the highlights covered by the play include those on Reed’s acting CV – Hammer, Winner, Russell, the Musketeers and Gladiator, plus the B-movies and Z-movies that came in the 1980s and 1990s – as well as the incidents of drunken excess.

 

Rob Crouch does an excellent job capturing the many shades of Ollie – drunkard, charmer, hooligan, barroom philosopher, buffoon, rebel, overgrown schoolboy, prankster, exhibitionist and occasionally something of a bitch (as evidenced by catty remarks about Jack Nicholson’s height and the thickness of Raquel Welch’s ankles).  So good is Crouch during the play’s most exuberant moments that you forget it’s him on the stage and not Reed himself.  He becomes almost shamanistic in his ability to channel the unruly actor’s spirit.

 

It is not a play, if you’re of a shy and retiring disposition, to watch whilst sitting in the front row of seats – as I found out.  While Crouch / Ollie cavorts above you, you find yourself on the receiving end of a rain of spittle and beer-flecks.  And it becomes alarming when he gets onto the topic of the Musketeers films and, with great relish, starts waving a large and realistic-looking sword above the audience’s heads.  (During the making of those movies, so enthusiastically did Reed enter into the swordfight sequences that the stuntmen ended up deliberately injuring him, figuring that they’d better put him out-of-action before he killed somebody on the set.)  Spectators in the front seats were also hauled onstage to participate in the drama.  It wasn’t long before I found myself up there, acting the role of the barman in The Pub, and handing out beers.  At least, Crouch / Ollie invited me to have one myself.  Having a beer with Oliver Reed in 2012 – not many people can claim they’ve done that.

 

One last thing – two and a half years ago, my Dad and I were on holiday in Malta and we visited The Pub, scene of Ollie’s last stand and now, inevitably, something of a shrine to him.  Here’s a picture of my Dad and Oliver Reed.  (Oliver Reed is the one hanging on the wall.)

 

 

And here’s a link to a pertinent website: http://www.oliverreed.net/.

 

Punk versus Putin

 

In Britain, we do things differently – differently from Russia when it comes to punk music, at least.  35 years ago, when a punk band called the Sex Pistols assailed one of our beloved national institutions by releasing a nasty, sneering song called God save the Queen during Silver Jubilee week, we merely tutted a bit, declined to play the song on Top of the Pops, pretended that the number-one slot that week had gone to Rod Stewart and not to the Pistols, and rolled our eyes with Schadenfreude when Johnny Rotten got duffed up by outraged and patriotic teddy boys.  Thereafter, we clutched the punk movement to our bosoms and turned it into yet another British tourist-pulling gimmick.  Witness the presence of pogo-ing punk rockers at Danny Boyle’s 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony.  Why, online, I even saw a photograph of a statue, somewhere in London, of one of those silly Olympics mascots – Wensleydale or Mandelson or whatever they were called – togged out as a Mohican-headed punk.  Elsewhere in London, there were statues of them dressed up as beefeaters and pearly kings.

 

Which has not been the response of the Russian authorities, increasingly deferential to the will and whims of President Vladimir Putin, when faced with Pussy Riot.  Back in February, the gimp-masked feminist punk band gave an unscheduled performance on the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, as a protest against the Russian Orthodox Church’s stance towards Putin – the relationship between church and state in modern-day Russia is becoming as gruesomely cosy as it was in Franco’s Spain.  This resulted, last week, in three members of Pussy Riot being sentenced to two years’ imprisonment as punishment for ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred’.   Since then, two more members of the group are believed to have fled the country.

 

During the past week, I saw one of Putin’s lackeys interviewed on the BBC’s Newsnight programme and he said that Pussy Riot had incurred such punishment because the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, which was demolished by Stalin in 1931, rebuilt during the 1990s and re-consecrated in 2000, is seen by Russians as a symbol of the repudiation of communism and the repudiation of the brutal Stalin years in particular (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cathedral_of_Christ_the_Saviour).  In other words, Pussy Riot’s brief (it lasted less than a minute before church security officials chucked them out) and cheeky performance there was an attack on Russians’ hard-won religious and political freedom.  If you can call it that nowadays.

 

So let’s get this straight.  Pussy Riot rocked the boat by performing in a building that is a symbol of freedom from a dictator, who was notorious for punishing people who rocked the boat in his regime by sending them to the gulag, and they have now been punished for rocking the boat by being sent to the gulag.  You know it makes sense.

 

In the West, musicians wanting to sing, perform and dress in a manner that defies convention and offends prevailing tastes, and fans wanting to emulate them, have had it relatively easy.  Even back in the 1970s, when you cut through the hype and hysteria, all that the new British punk bands were really up against were Mary Whitehouse, a few excitable tabloid editors and a few flatulent old Conservative MPs.  Prime Minister Jim Callaghan might have been a bit of a knob, but he wasn’t going to send anyone to the British equivalent of the gulag for composing songs with some sweary words in them and dyeing their hair a colour that departed from the normal human spectrum of black, blonde, brown and ginger.

 

Compare that with the treatment meted out to punks during the same era in East Germany, on the other side of the Iron Curtain.  The DDR Musueum in modern Berlin, which I visited during a trip to the city last autumn, has a display chronicling the trials and tribulations of those East German punks.  According to a 2009 article in the Daily Beast, they “experienced arbitrary detainment, brutal police beatings, and invasive searches of apartments and other spaces where they congregated. The police also began to recruit informants—often by extreme coercion. Finally, before the end of 1981, the ‘punk problem’ was eventually passed over to the dreaded Stasi, taken up by the division charged with fighting political opposition.”  (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2009/11/08/did-punk-rock-tear-down-the-wall.html)

 

And still it goes on.  In Aceh province in Indonesia in 2011, 64 fans were arrested at a punk concert and imprisoned in a police training school, where they had their heads shaved and were forced to undergo ten days of ‘re-education’.  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=STkG0ondNnk)   It’s not just punks who get it, either.   A recent article on the BBC online news magazine detailed how goth kids in Tashkent, capital city of Uzbekistan, have been persecuted after getting the blame for vandalism at a local Christian cemetery.  Uzbekistan is a Muslim country, which leads me to reluctantly suspect that the real vandals of that Christian cemetery might have had a religious motive – well, the Salafists have been doing it in Libya recently.  (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-19009188).

 

And of course, there’s the sad story of the Iraqi heavy metal band Acrassicauda, which was told in the documentary movie Heavy Metal in Baghdad.  (http://heavymetalinbaghdad.com/uk/)  They eventually had to flee Iraq, to Turkey, after getting death-threats from insurgents and religious extremists who accused them of devil-worship.

 

In Tunis, where I work at the moment, I occasionally see on the streets kids who are ‘gothed-up’ or wearing heavy metal T-shirts.  I wonder how long it will be before Tunisia’s new, self-appointed morality police, our local Salafists, get tired of hassling TV stations for broadcasting ‘blasphemous’ films and hassling galleries for exhibiting ‘blasphemous’ paintings, and start hassling them.

 

Finally, returning to Pussy Riot, I can’t help but wonder how many of the old punk musicians in 1970s Britain — who, as I’ve said, had things relatively easy — would’ve had the nerve to pull a stunt like that pulled in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour this February, with spending God-knows-how-many years in a Russian prison as a possible outcome.  I can’t imagine Johnny Rotten doing it.  I can’t even imagine the Clash, politically motivated though they were, doing it.  In fact, the only one of those 1970s British punks I can visualise can-canning alongside Pussy Riot on that Russian Orthodox altar is Sid Vicious, who was always willing to try anything that’d get up people’s noses with little thought about the consequences.  Sadly, that’s not because Sid, who once swaggered through a Jewish area of Paris wearing a swastika T-shirt, was a political rebel.  It’s because he was too thick to understand the principles of cause and effect.

 

Anyway, here’s footage of those gimp-faced ladies doing their stuff in the cathedral six months ago: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALS92big4TY.  Enjoy, Mr Putin.

 

At the Edinburgh Festival: Six and a Tanner by Rony Bridges

 

“Ye’re a bastart, da!”  So begins Six and a Tanner, a one-man play written by Rony Bridges and starring David Hayman, currently showing at the Assembly Rooms as part of the Edinburgh Fringe.  The unnamed speaker, a Glaswegian sharing the stage with a coffin that contains the remains of his father, then starts talking about Christmas when he was four years old.  This was the Christmas his father decided to tell him that Santa Claus didn’t exist.  At least this meant that he couldn’t keep blaming Santa for the crumminess of his son’s Christmas presents – the previous Christmas, when his son’s airplane (made out of clothespegs) fell apart the first time he tried to fly it, the father’s only response was that Santa’s “a cheap bastart”.

 

And here begins a diatribe – a 70-minute diatribe, during which the now middle-aged son rants, raves and sometimes just quietly, bitterly reminisces beside his father’s corpse while it rests in a funeral parlour, awaiting cremation.  He lambasts the old man for his many failures and foul-ups, which resulted in his own life, his childhood and beyond, being so joyless.

 

My initial reaction to this was, what, another slice of urban brutalism / poverty porn from the west of Scotland?  Here is a genre that for decades has been explored by writers (Robin Jenkins, Archie Hind, James Kelman, Agnes Owens, Jeff Torrington) and filmmakers (John Mackenzie, Ken Loach, Peter Mullan), to the point where the outside world must think that the only books written and the only films made in Scotland concern dysfunctional families struggling with alcoholism / drug addiction / domestic violence / gangsters / sectarianism whilst living in desperate conditions in Glasgow.  However, as parts of that city still have some of the shortest life expectancies and lowest health standards in Europe, I suspect that Glaswegian miserabilism will remain a large feature on Scotland’s artistic landscape until the day arises – if it ever arises – when politicians manage finally to sort out the city’s problems.

 

Besides, if Six and a Tanner is anything to go by, there is still good, dramatic material to be mined in this territory.  And thankfully, Bridges imbues much of it with humour – black humour, naturally.  Indeed, some of the anecdotes that surface during the son’s lengthy harangue struck me as being too comical to be feasible – the black kitten that his father drunkenly buys one night in the pub, only to discover that it’s actually a panther-cub that’s been swiped from Glasgow Zoo, for example, or his mother’s less-than-tactful decision to use his wedding day to announce that she’s had enough and is running off with the postman – though having read that the play is autobiographical on Bridges’ part (and having known a few Glaswegians in my time who seemed capable of such things) I wonder now if those anecdotes are so far-fetched.

 

The nature of the play means that much of its effectiveness depends on the performance of its one performer, and David Hayman is well up to the job.  Hayman found fame at the end of the 1970s playing Jimmy Boyle, the real-life gangster-turned-sculptor, in John Mackenzie’s TV film A Sense of Freedom, although international audiences may know him better for playing Malcolm McLaren in Alex Cox’s Sid and Nancy and playing the villain in Ken Loach’s My Name is Joe.  Here, Hayman conveys both the corrosive bitterness of someone whose life has been twisted out of shape by his old man’s inadequacies and the resourcefulness, humour and imagination of someone who’s had to develop such qualities from an early age in order to stay sane.  I did wonder about the character’s age and the time-frame he was supposed to inhabit – references to disco, Mods and Roy Rogers raised questions about whether he was meant to be a child of the 1970s, the 1960s or earlier – though that is Bridges’ fault rather than Hayman’s.

 

Three-quarters of the way through the play, when the son recalls how he discovered that his father had become homeless, had taken to the streets and had disappeared, and – despite everything that’d happened before – he set out to find the old loser, there seems to be a danger that the story will descend into sentimentality.  (Surely, I thought, it wouldn’t end with father and son in each other’s arms and the latter exclaiming, “I love you, pop!”)  It’s noticeable too that Hayman’s energy levels go down a little at this point.

 

However, that doesn’t happen.  We learn that, on his deathbed, the old man sprang one last, nasty surprise on his son – and the son wreaked some final, blackly-comic revenge on him.  Satisfyingly, in the gospel according to Six and a Tanner, the sins of the father are ultimately visited on the father.

 

The return of Jim Mountfield

 

My writing career has been less-than-exciting recently — due to a major training project I’ve had to supervise at work, I’ve barely had free time to write anything — but my horror-fiction writing alter ego Jim Mountfield has just had a short story published in the August-September edition of The Horror Zine.  Here’s a link to the main page: http://www.thehorrorzine.com.  And here’s a link to the story itself: http://www.thehorrorzine.com/Fiction/Aug2012/IanSmith/JimMountfield.html.

 

The story was written as revenge against all those dishonest landlords who cheat tenants out of money by not returning the deposits that were paid at the start of their leases.  This has happened to me before.  And yes, Simon in Norwich, I’m looking at you.