Alexander Gillespie, Bennett Bonci, Edinburgh Fringe, Hannah Raymond-Cox, Mermaids Performing Arts Fund, Mermaids St Andrews, Oliver Lennard, Paradise in the Vault, Patriots, Scottish Nationalism, Social Media, Stephen Quinn, Theatre Review
I am stunned. In fact, I don’t believe that this has ever happened before in all of my years at the Fringe! A play is running fifteen minutes late.
Buses are late, budget aeroplanes are late, but never, in my experience, are Fringe performances late. It will mean that for the rest of the night, people are turning up at the venue, Paradise in the Vault, fifteen minutes early and leaving fifteen minutes late. Connections will be missed; countless Fringe schedules will be disrupted.
Having bitterly punched and hacked a path through the crowds on the George IV Bridge to get here on time, I am surprised by how well I am taking the delay. I am rueful and contemplative.
It is a temptation to proceed straight from the disorderliness at the venue to the apparent indiscipline of this play. But I am not certain that this would be wholly fair. “Patriots” comes from St Andrews University and it is written by Alexander Gillespie. There is a framing testimony from a man named Martin (Olly Lennard), whose boyfriend James, a sacked journalist, had suffered from debilitating depression in the final year of his life. Martin’s narrative is interrupted by three sketches which focus on individuals who are at the centre of completely disconnected news stories. We meet a US senator (Bennett Bonci) who had emailed a photo of his penis to a younger woman with predictable results; a politician’s wife (Hannah Raymond-Cox) who endures an intrusive tabloid interview; and a Scottish nationalist (Stephen Quinn) who is phoning the BBC to complain about its bias.
What do these narratives have in common? Well, for one thing they all seem to evoke the media of this century rather than the last one. The image of that deceased print journalist is juxtaposed with the rest of the play’s distinct air of online randomness. These tales are like the handful of stories that you would click on during your first five minutes at the computer or on the tablet, after a periodic scan of your Twitter feed or the Guardian app. Yet perhaps “Patriots” is supposed to provide a depth which is absent from the usual representation of such stories in the media. This is, after all, the theatre, not Twitter, and so we are surely meant to have a richer, more penetrative storytelling.
“Patriots” is distinguished more by the randomness on stage than by the stories themselves, which are unforthcoming or tragic in a nonplussed way. Nonetheless, the actors make themselves comfortably at home in their characters. Bonci portrays his senator as a sympathetic slimeball, who swaggers about with a dangling black tie pointed like an arrow at his crotch. Leonard’s Martin is a gentlemanly emotional wreck; Raymond-Cox’s high-flying wife is at once defiant and woebegone. Quinn is suitably cross as the Scottish nationalist, whose struggle for independence consists of taking part in a hallucinatory game show on the BBC switchboard.
The journalist James defines a patriot as somebody who never questions their country and its power. Are this play’s characters patriots of their respective nations or of a new online realm which they have no control over? The motivations of an erring politician, or of a politician’s wife, or of a supposedly impartial broadcaster are subjects which are tweeted about all day and every day. But each of these stories is a tale of woe and its predominant tone is one of powerlessness or defeatism. James, the source of the play’s only revolutionary spark, is now dead.