Writer Eve Nicol’s punchy play with songs is a big number production by Avalon and BBC Arts in association with the Tron Theatre, Glasgow. It puts ‘the world and language’ of Belle and Sebastian’s 1996 record ‘into a new story’. The disc appeared as an entry in 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, which has its own grim humour as the cover track deals with suicide. Not so in Nicol’s adaptation, where protagonist Kid is more of a life force, albeit with an inhaler.
‘Kid’, twenty something and manic, is in a relationship with ‘Boss’, 50ish, a lecturer sort. At the off it is a little creepy, jarring, just like Hilary in the title song, who’s into S&M and bible studies. These two play games, they love making stories, rehearsing their favourite ones. ‘Story me’ commands Kid and it all comes out, in shiny vinyl textures. It’s a priceless invention and makes for frenetic theatre. These two have managed to steal Salvador Dali’s Christ of St John of the Cross from Glasgow’s Kelvingrove. It was a controversial purchase by the gallery in 1951 and Art students petitioned against it. Measuring 205 by 116cms it explains the size of the most evident prop, Kid’s black tube case.
Dali’s painting is vivid and technically astonishing. If you’ve seen more surrealist art than you have listened to Belle and Sebastian, just the idea of the picture steals the show, which is a shame given the level of performance. Sarah Swire plays Kid in ways that you would never want to turn your back on her, (a) because she fascinates and (b) because you’re fearful of what she’ll do next. Alan McHugh as Boss loves her to bits but knows he has to keep his distance or he’s done for. He measures the role perfectly.
Swire does most of the singing in the light, clear tones of Stuart Murdoch – lead singer of Belle and Sebastian – and that suits her character’s edgy equilibrium. A refrain from If You’re Feeling Sinister is your best guide to enjoying a play that is at once hyperactive and melancholic:
‘… the only things she wants to know is
How and why and when and where to go
How and why and when and where to follow.’
Kid feels lost and Boss is walking away. Me and the Major (Track 3) ticks the box here.
Shifting song lyrics onto the stage could be too contrived but it works within the space of 60 madcap minutes. The busy set of a Glasgow tenement flat looks almost redundant but how else to contain this story of love and risk and loss? In case you’re anxious, there is a pretty joyous resolution.