Lanark: A Life In Three Acts

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Superb staging of Alisdair Gray’s unstageable novel

Image of Lanark: A Life In Three Acts

@ Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, until Mon 31 Aug @ 13.00 & 19.00

Lanark is a book often described as unfilmable; by extension, it should also be unstageable. However, Citizens Theatre, adapter David Greig and director Graham Eatough, despite occasionally wrestling with the density of its ideas, overall come out on top.

Part story of Lanark, an innocent abroad, like Candide penned by Kafka; part biography of a lonely Glaswegian painter, Duncan Thaw, who seeks perfection in love and art, the two narratives mirror each other and both are equally unreliable.

Lanark, in a great twitchy performance by Sandy Greirson, is a man with no memory of his past who arrives in the dystopian city of Unthank and is adopted by the gang at the Elite cinema, a group of Fellini-like sybarites one of whom, Rima (Jessica Hardwick) he falls in love with. Later he finds himself in The Institute, a sterile seventies sci-fi establishment “treating” the diseases borne from isolation and fear. Eventually he reluctantly returns to Unthank now on the edge of destruction and transformed into a Seventies disco version of hell.

Inbetween his stays in Unthank we glimpse his past as Duncan Thaw, the angry, lovelorn, would-be artist sure of his destiny as a man of genius and hopeless with women.

Even at nearly four hours there is a lot to squeeze into this adaptation. Greig is fairly free with the text, but keeps the marrow of the story and its satirical edge, which is possibly more relevant now than at any time since it was written. The staging by Laura Hopkins is superb, as is the use of multimedia, but the real praise belongs to the cast who effortlessly play multiple roles in Lanark’s life.

Proving nothing is impossible, even the staging of this highly improbable tale, this is Scottish theatre at its peak of ambition and class.