PYLON opens powerfully as electronic hums thrum through the auditorium building to a crescendo. This is followed by a projection of a vintage Scottish TV news report about the Shortlees area of Kilmarnock and its infamous electricity pylons running through a council estate, standing as close as 20 yards to some houses. The report then details the concerns of radiation from the pylons possibly leading to cancer in residents, and the sinister tone for the evening is set.
We get the impression that production company 4point3 is attempting to fuse documentary and theatre in making PYLON; an interesting concept that certainly has potential. Paul Montgomery – playing David – enters the stage to begin his monologue, embodying a down-to-earth 30-year-old who the audience can relate with and warm to. His story of life in Shortlees under the pylons feels honest and personal; every reference to the metal giants is tinged with dread. Writer Graeme Cameron also broadens the scope of the narrative to explore social issues such as poverty, neglect and the lives of the working class. However, as Montgomery speaks, he is joined on stage by eight or nine masked figures dressed in black. They take their places behind microphone stands and instruments and soon enough, music kicks in. From here on in, PYLON begins to lose its way.
What was a captivating and intimate monologue has now become a quasi-musical, and songs with fairly literal titles – Pylon, Power, Jamie, Addict – interrupt the narrative rather than bolster it. The musicians are undoubtedly talented and the feel of the music is appropriate (intense rock with driving electronic drumbeats and threatening synth buzzes); however, the idea of vocalists singing ideas from the story to us just seems odd and unnecessary – even cheesy. One minute we’re listening to a heart-wrenching account of a cancer diagnosis and the next we’re rocking out to a song about it. Even Montgomery is suddenly out of place for these interludes and is reduced to merely standing or sitting still for four minutes. At most, he paces around his park bench prop until the music is done and we can return to the actual storytelling. The audience seem confused and there is no applause after the first couple of songs as we’re not sure how to react.
Further confusion arises when the masked drummer suddenly creeps up behind Montgomery to taunt and insult him. The figure is then challenged by a bass player who ejects him from the musical ensemble and replaces him at the drums. Is it symbolic? What do the masked figures represent? David’s psyche? Death? Those in charge of the pylons? It’s never clear and the bizarre moment dilutes the real power of the play. One can’t help but feel that PYLON would have been more successful purely as a monologue framed by TV reports and real interviews – an element of the performance that does work. Although the music seems to have been installed to add more weight and a different, showy dimension, it really only gets in the way. Less would have been more.
Ultimately, Montgomery’s performance saves PYLON. His line delivery is a little staccato at times but he nails the colloquial humour and conveys the emotional severity of the Shortlees story so that the audience are genuinely moved. It’s just a shame that the musical aspect confuses things and detracts from what was a perfectly effective script on its own.