If one walks into Sally Lewis’ new play “Glasgow ’14” wondering how she can write a drama about a horrendous traffic accident, and whether or not it will be somehow tasteless so soon after the event, one staggers out again not being so sure that this disaster ever actually came up. The play feels almost like a cryptic, private meeting, for those in the know.
The nature of the accident remains unmentioned, as does the name of the man who the Scottish criminal justice system very loosely regards as the perpetrator. Its scale is equally never alluded to – dozens or hundreds could be dead. The average Fringe audience member – a Japanese ballet dancer at a Canadian university on secondment in Oslo – will puzzlingly conclude that the characters in “Glasgow ’14” have all encountered a terrorist bombing or a rhinoceros escaping from the zoo.
The huge invisible shape in the middle of this drama is in fact filled by the driver of a bin lorry, who had in 2014 blacked out and mounted the pavement in Glasgow’s Queen Street, killing six pedestrians. The driver had failed to disclose to his employer that he suffered from fainting fits. He was consequently granted immunity from prosecution, to the bitter anger of the survivors and the relatives of the dead.
This story is left in darkness and “Glasgow ’14” instead shines a very focused beam of light into the immediate reactions and reflexes of its bystanders and witnesses. Neil Gwynne plays four different men who were each on the spot, or near to it, as the hammer came down. They each have radically different accents: there is a southern English cleric, a Polish hot dog vender, a Glaswegian hot dog customer, and a northern English homeless ex-serviceman. I am sure that Gwynne could conjure up four just as diverse Glaswegian accents and he is simply being over-precautious. During the disaster, each of these men steps onto the floor of a dreamland of weird, largely inexplicable personal responses. The cleric grips a man and hugs him. The homeless solider is reconnected with memories of the battlefield. The hot dog vendor runs in elfin shoes.
It makes you wonder how you would behave during a public emergency. Would you be hysterical or unexpectedly resourceful? More to the point, which precious chunk from your own history would rise up out of the psychological soup? Whose name would come to your lips?
Longstanding readers of Tychy will not wish to read again about this website’s hatred of one-man shows. If theatre was the light, they would be a foul heresy that needs to be burnt out. But Neil Gwynne’s performance is workmanlike and, after a while, there comes to seem something very fitting to it. One-man shows always look to me like a loneliness of the soul – there is none of the normal rhapsody of different, moving bodies in play. Lewis’ lonely characters are each somehow lonelier in being bottled up in the same body and sharing the same face, without ever achieving any sympathetic contact. One man is filled, hauntingly, with four different lost spirits.