There is a certain strand of wistful hopelessness particular to small Scottish towns that is perfectly captured by Gregory Burke’s classic thriller, Gagarin Way. The second play in Artistic Director’s Andrew Panton’s new season at Dundee Rep, this presents a very different slice of Scottish life to the charmingly evocative The Yellow On The Broom.
Gary and Eddie are disillusioned factory workers in Fife, determined to seek redress for perceived exploitation at the hands of the company’s distant management. Hoping to make a spectacular statement about their right to a fairer deal, they kidnap a visiting manager – only to discover that Frank is as far from being a smug, international fat cat as they are.
The play premiered at the Traverse in July 2001, become a Fringe hit and has since popped up in productions across the world. Lauded for whip quick dialogue, for presenting a side of Scottish life scarcely seen on stage at the time and for the scope of its political and philosophical exploration, it’s a script that almost defies categorisation. The comedy is black as a moonless night, it’s a taut psychological thriller, it’s a sharp commentary on the failure of a political system to create meaning and it’s a study of friendship, endurance and what passes for resilience when the local economy’s in ruins. Even though the soundscape before the play begins locates you neatly in internet dial up days, this production is just as topical today.
Director Cora Bissett’s production is tense, shocking and kind all at once. It would be easy to turn these characters into caricatures but this cast turn in nuanced and finely tuned performances. Ewan Donald’s Eddie is a riveting firecracker. High on substances or on life, he veers between what seems like compassion and a shockingly shameless violence. He’s a man who has been let down by life and despite all that’s gone before, when he finally appeals to Gary – who else can he rely on? It’s a touchingly plaintive plea. Michael Moreland as Gary bursts onto the stage with the swagger of a man who has all the answers – but Frank’s questions shake the foundations of his passionately declaimed politics, leaving him racked with self-doubt.
Barrie Hunter’s Frank is anything but a corporate fat cat. He hails from Leven, not some far flung land, and his weary catalogue of personal calamity is the first jenga block snatched out of Eddie and Gary’s teetering tower of intention. And Ross Baxter’s Tom is a fantastic counterpart to Burke’s three cynics. A security guard who ends up embroiled in the antics, he brings a lovely wide-eyed innocence to the story. He’s studied the politics and the philosophy of disillusionment that has led Eddie to his breaking point; however, he’s already had his share of disappointment and determines to flee the meagre opportunities available in his homeland.
This is a stylish production with just enough of a soundscape (produced by Niroshini Thambar) to crank up the tension. Emily James’ set is industrially fit for purpose with lovely use made of the conveyor belt. The lighting (Katherine Williams) only occasionally strays from stark realism to great effect. And EmmaClaire Brightlyn serves up some cracking action sequences.
This 17-year-old play about big dreams and small town hopelessness is brilliantly pertinent in this climate of economic uncertainty and blundering politics. It’s a bold choice from Dundee Rep that left some of its audience tutting at the plethora of c*&ts scattered liberally throughout the script. But if you’re ok with a bit (or a lot, rather) of swearing, it’s a funny from the get go, pointed, punchy polemic.