9½ Scenes: Fear and Loathing in Kirkintilloch

It was the same smell I remembered from 1981. Must, paint and glue, and then (oh those glory days!) then it was teen spirit. I rejoined the Kirkintilloch Players after an absence of thirty years for three reasons: to schedule more time with my mother; to learn, after some years of my ad hoc community drama group and a Master’s in Playwriting & Dramaturgy, from their theatrical practice; and nostalgia.

The word ‘post-industrial’ was no mere theoretical category in those days. The Lion Foundry was shut down and a proud tradition of craftsmanship ended. The canal, now flowing free, was choked and Lord Beecham was to blame for the removal of our railway branch line. I and my infant friends went to separate schools and even our boyhood cub and scout groups were (sometimes unofficially) affiliated to different denominations.

I didn’t appreciate then how many divides I was crossing when I joined this local amateur drama club in my early teens. Sectarianism simply wasn’t an issue and when our other teen prejudices were voiced our adult mentors were wise and prudent and affirming, in that understated Scots way, of diversity. I am a more confident and open-minded person today because of that experience. Iain, Gillian and Gus, and all the adult members of the Players we met at Panto-time who patiently taught us to apply cold cream before greasepaint, how to overcome stagefright, how to bow in chorus, thank-you for watching over us.

Monday 4th to Sat. 9th May 2015 we’re performing the rarely-produced harrowing three-hander by Frank McGuinness: Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me. Doors open 7pm, curtain up 7.30pm, tickets (£9, £7 concessions) sell out fast. Get yours from the Cast or from The Old Sweetie Shop on the Cowgate, Kirkintilloch High Street, G66 1HN.

Set in the 1980s, during the Beirut hostage crisis, the stage set consists of three straw bags, three stone blocks with chain attached, a crate, a broken chair, a Jerusalem Bible and an English Koran. I’m Michael the bewildered English university lecturer, my companions and antagonists are Edward the belligerent but affectionate Irishman and Adam the American, ‘beautiful to look at, kind, gentle’ and gradually going out of his mind.

In 9½ scenes (counting the cut Prologue which simply featured Adam in solitary and the ironic title of Ella Fitzgerald’s lovely song) the fear and loathing of the men for their unseen captors, their hopes, lust, disappointments and imaginations are played out in this theatrical tour de force which caused Brian Keenan, the Beirut captive to whom the play is dedicated, to write in its Introduction:

“with a pace and ferocity I had not expected, the play and its people blasted out of the shadows […] a rich linguistic fire that seared and scorched the audience with a laughter that was at times born out of pain as much as humour […] the play made me choke and cry and laugh and hold myself.”

With associations from the prisoners in Plato’s cave of shadows to the rhythmic alternations in the story of the Old Man of the Mountains and his drugged Assassins (echoed in La Vida es Sueño, Abre los Ojos, Vanilla Sky, Kiss of the Spider Woman) this play reveres the power of the imagination to keep us alive – and to delude us. Come to Kirkintilloch. Watch over us.

Someone Who'll Watch Over Me