HOWL(ing) exposes the greatest minds of post-indyref Scotland in an affectionate and admirably unbiased blast of theatrical sunlight, made no less affecting by rough edges that speak more of urgency than under-rehearsal.
In this 45-minute performance, producer, writer and director Drew Taylor has created an epic poem for post-referendum Scotland, fitted into the framework of Beat poet Allen Ginsberg’s soul-shaking dissection of 1950s America, Howl. Unfortunately, this new Scottish offspring never manages to replicate Ginsberg’s brash rage, or the soaring creativity of his language; but it is a bold, thought-provoking performance, and a passionate examination of the minutiae of post-indyref Scotland that we can’t afford to ignore.
Taylor is, in a technical-sense, the best performer on stage, weaving his words between the unobtrusive lilts of Julia and The Doogans‘ ukulele soundtrack, transforming the poetry from sentences spoken to an experience far more physical and immediate. The writing itself lacks Ginsberg’s psychedelic punchiness, opting instead for bold, bare observations and close-to-the-bone humour that’s more in-keeping with its Glaswegian roots and definitely pushes all the right buttons for an appreciative and gloriously rowdy Arches audience.
But it’s the passion, rather than the technical skill of all three performers – Taylor, David Rankine and Leyla Josephine – that is its most striking aspect. In amongst the laughs, which are constant and brilliant and bang-on, the three give voice to their own unmistakably personal stories of hope and disappointment and struggle, creating an urgent and vital polemic that burrows under the skin and refuses to be forgotten.
This unpretentious performance positions anger alongside empathy, reminding us that with the indyref behemoth out of the way the bigger questions about the country we now find ourselves living in can’t be brushed under another splash of twee tartan carpet. HOWL(ing) represents the best minds of our generation not shutting up and getting back in their boxes and maybe, with the battle wounds still raw, that’s what Scotland needs most.