Margaret Kirk heads underground to enjoy the experiment
Behaviour is not just a new name for The Arches Theatre Festival: it expresses the new energy that has swept through these caverns since Jackie Wylie became the artistic director. Concentrating on works that appeal to The Arches’ youthful audience, throwing in new works alongside seasoned veterans and old favourites, Behaviour makes a strong claim for The Arches as the strongest and most imaginative venue in Scotland. The two Arches award winners, who also performed at The Traverse, demonstrated the vitality and imagination of Scottish drama. Sasha Kyle’s The Library is less effective than her earlier work Lost Property- perhaps the transition to a more traditional format converted her usual charm into whimsy. It does reveal the extent of her ambitions, however. She incorporates dance and animation, adapting a child-like wonder to serious matters. The Library doesn’t entirely fulfil its promise, although the reflections on academia are timely and provocative, suggesting that the real question being answered in many post-graduate studies is: am I clever enough? When it attempts to expand this into broader meditation on family, sex and understanding, the text feels predictable, but Kyle’s imagination and stage-craft promises future works of outstanding intelligence and beauty. There are no caveats for Nic Green. Increasingly, she is shedding the paraphernalia of performance art- the awkwardness, the unnecessary provocations and lack of quality control- to hone her work into direct and forceful productions. Bloody Town Hall has a clear feminist agenda, without being polemical. Once again, she concludes with an entirely naked, dancing cast that somehow manages not to titillate or exploit, actually celebrating the body. Her own tentative take on feminism is elegantly questioning, conjuring doubt rather than attacking masculinity, even when Norman Mailer is under scrutiny. Her cast, which shares many members with the superb Fish and Game’s Otter Pie, balance performance with sincerity. Green is a writer and director for the future, her angular approaches to complex events and concepts an object lesson in both clarity and inclusion. Back in the caves of Glasgow, John Moran and his neighbour Saori offer a short lesson in radical, modern composition: if Moran comes across as arrogant, it is a testament to the honesty of his presentation. Having been praised as a young composer of complex modern opera, Moran has moved into more intimate work, using sound to create portraits, drawing a close analogy between composition and painting. His use of sampling is stunning, his acoustic interludes less so: by identifying the musical possibilities of ambient sound, he unlocks an entire new vocabulary. Anne Liv Young is supposed to shock: her topless tap-dancing, visceral examinations of the vagina, liberal use of black face and constant aggression to both audience and technicians ticks that box. This time, however, she expresses her intentions within the fury, capturing the sexual brutality that is inherent in slavery (and which is so often ignored in any discussion around the topic). Young is never coherent, her performances are more an elongated yelp of pain and terror. Yet by linking her vicious performance tactics to an issue, she launches a scattershot critique of liberal cosiness. Behaviour isn’t just about hard impact. Little Red is a charming German take on the end of communism, evoking both a sense of loss and relief at the new global hegemony; Dot 504 are remarkably sensuous and questioning; Al Seed’s lecture may have disappointed fans of his physical urgency and allusive mime, but gave an insight into Seed’s processes and interests. And the final party captured Tam Dean Burn in full apocalyptic flow. It doesn’t have something for everyone- all of the works experiment and challenge and there are few easy laughs or simple appeals to the audience. Thank God for experimental theatre.