Alan Bissett on The Red Hourglass

Alan Bissett opens up about his latest play

Preview by Stephanie Green | 09 Aug 2012

Beautiful but deadly. I'm talking spiders here. Locked up in a scientist’s tank, these are the characters in novelist and playwright Alan Bissett's latest must-see play, The Red Hourglass, which takes its name from the markings on the Black Widow.  

The play is a series of monologues, just as in his previous smash-hit The Moira Monologues where Alan played all the female parts (not wearing a dress). This time it is a cast of three males and two females, none of them human, all played by Alan himself, and promises to be just as laugh out-loud funny. It is also surrealistic, scary and erotic.

Why spiders?  "A writer should write about his deepest fear," Alan says, and confesses to being an arachnophobe. "They hate us. We live in the shadows where it’s warm and damp, which might be described as Gothic."

But this play is not just about spiders. There's also a hawk wasp. I mean, of course, that it's really about the human condition. "Like in Big Brother, when you lock people up together,’ he says, ‘there’s bound to be conflict, the prey/predator dynamic."

As in The Moira Monologues Alan explores the female point of view but this time, through the eyes of the Black Widow: the sex drive competes with the death drive, and the Widow is a female who is driven to kill males. He hopes that the audience will sympathize with her. She is wounded too. He questions why female killers, such as Myra Hindley, are always more demonized than males. "I’m fucking about with gender stereotypes," Alan says.

It is not surprising that Alan writes plays as well as novels. Winner of The Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Writer of the Year in 2011, and short-listed for Scotland’s largest award, the Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust Book of the Year (for Packmen in 2012), his novels (apart from Death of a Ladies' Man) are voice-driven and in first person Falkirk/Scots. This also explains why he has taken to the stage as an actor so readily. He has scripted a pilot episode of The Moira Monologues for the BBC and is working on a film script of his cult novel, Boy Racer

Alan feels his work is getting increasingly political. He cites George Orwell’s Animal Farm. But for Alan, of course, it's not pigs but spiders which he uses to explore the mythology of fear: "Fear of chavs, neds, women, socialists, anyone that threatens the dominant order. The Red Hourglass is a political play about the oppressed and demonized."

Since the financial crisis in 2008, Alan feels he has to take a stand somewhere. "If you don’t sympathize with those who get hammered, then you are part of the problem. I can’t say, I’m doing my writing." He mimes pounding at a typewriter. "Sort yourselves out."

Of course, he still wants to make his audience laugh, "but then you slap them with a spidery diatribe," he says. From the extract I heard Alan performing at Neu Reekie recently, I predict this will be the must-see Fringe drama of 2012.

The Red Hourglass, written and performed by Alan Bissett, directed by Sacha Kyle is showing at 7pm on 15 and 16/18-25 August (1 hour) at Venue 147, National Library of Scotland, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1EW Tickets £12/£10: 0131-226-0000