Ghost in the Machine

When a young widow begins to hear messages emerging from the crackle and hiss of a compilation tape she becomes convinced her husband is communicating from beyond the grave. Grief can do strange things to the human psyche but music is a powerful communicator as Suspect Culture Artistic Director Graham Eatough explains to Hugo Fluendy

Feature by Hugo Fluendy | 05 Feb 2008
The unexpected death of a loved one can be almost too painful to bear. There are no long goodbyes with sudden bereavement; all those things that you all always wanted to say but never quite got around to remain unsaid for ever, a silent echo in a caesura of grief. Or you can break out the stereo and crank it up really high…

Notions of loss and communication as well as the lost art of making compilation tapes form the thematic heart of Static, Dan Reballato's new play which opens at The Tron this month. A collaboration between Glasgow's Suspect Culture and disabled actors company Graeae, the play maps out a young widow's struggle to come to terms with her husband's untimely death with an expressive mix of sharp dialogue, choreography, sign language and a richly nostalgic soundtrack featuring campus classics such as Sonic Youth, The Smiths and Nirvana. As far as coping strategies go, listening to Cure B-Sides on repeat ranks low on a scale of derangement that includes alcoholism and suicide but her trip down musical memory lane soon creeps into obsession. The music seems to offer her a more concrete connection with her past, one that she had thought dead and buried.

"The backbone of the story is to do with this woman Sarah who has just lost her husband, who happened to be deaf," explains Eatough. "He left her a compilation tape and she thinks it contains some sort of message he's trying to communicate to her from beyond the grave. So the play is all about her trying to work out what he's trying to communicate to her as well as the way the mind works to process grief, the sorts of stories that it comes up with in order to make grief bearable."

But it's not all doom and gloom. Despite the serious subject matter, Eatough pegs the play as black comedy. "The context is one of grief but one of the ways you can deal with it is to express yourself through humour, even if it's a dark humour. It's also a real music buff's play. The husband was a music journalist and even after he went deaf he continued to write about it and the other characters have a real passion for music. There's a lot of funny stuff about people's obsession with music, bands, websites and compilation tapes. In fact that was one of the starting points we all shared: we were all of an age where making compilation tapes was really important. It's not just about the music, it's about the ritual of putting the tapes together, the artwork on the cover, the way you curate the tape, what rules and logic are behind creating the sequence of songs, whether they're themed, or with numbers in them and so on. Music is another way to communicate with each other; telling each other which music we like is a really clear way of telling each other about ourselves."

After its run in Glasgow, Static heads out on a major nationwide tour climaxing with a ten-night run in London. So while the jury is out on the artistic success of the production until the first reviews are in, the collaboration is another milestone not only for Suspect Culture – the tour is the largest the company has yet undertaken – but for an increasingly vibrant Scottish theatre in general. "There's a kind of… annoying barrier for English and Scottish companies because of the different Arts Councils that makes it difficult to do cross-border tours," Eatough concludes carefully. "So this kind of collaboration between English and Scottish touring companies opens up a lot of possibilities."
14-23 February, The Tron, Glasgow
26 February - 1 March, The Traverse, Edinburgh /