Thursday, May 30

A Giant On The Bridge – Traverse Theatre

Between 2017 and 2021 Glasgow University’s Professor of Criminology & Social Work Fergus McNeill and researcher/artist/linguist and musician Lucy Cathcart Frodén engaged with people involved in the Scottish Criminal Justice system, creating the Distant Voices Community. They wanted to explore crime, punishment and issues associated with re-integrating with ‘normal’ society upon release, going beyond the obvious candidates, interacting with prison officers, governors, probation and social workers and family members of those incarcerated. To quote the Traverse programme notes; ‘Every year in Scotland 10,000 people return home from prison to an uncertain future’. Their findings can be found as ‘learning resources’ on the web (go to Vox Liminus) and six podcasts entitled Currents, Stepping Stones, Foundations, Columns, Beams and The Land. Crucially, they hooked up some of the best nearby musicians and songwriters with some of the people they’d interviewed and our reward tonight – created within the forbidding walls of HMP’s Inverness, Barlinnie, Polmont and Castle Huntly – is the fruits of these encounters.

Devised by Liam Hurley and Jo Mango it’s performed by a veritable Who’s Who of Scottish-based talent, an (almost) supergroup comprised of Admiral Fallow’s Louis Abbot and Joseph Rattray, Kim Grant (AKA Raveloe), Jo Mango, Jill O’Sullivan (Jill Lorean, Sparrow & The Workshop) and Solareye (of Stanley Odd fame). The list of songsmiths pitching in with contributions includes C Duncan, Rachel Sermanni and Donna Maciocia. Not to mention Dr Phil Crockett Thomas, another esteemed criminologist from the University of Stirling.

Above and beyond the superb blend of modern tech, instrumentation, arrangements and performance, the musicians play, with more than a dash of comedy, the parts of five interweaving characters gleaned from the research: Louis plays himself, describing the daily challenges (and rewards) attempting to inspire inmates with musical insights, Kim relates a fairytale of a giant without a heart, an evil King and a sensitive Prince, Jo informs on the chores of a social worker attempting to help inmates and families write letters to each other and Jill plays the sister (June) of Solareye’s ‘D’, three days away from release. There’s dramatic tension as D’s release date nears and we’re wondering how things will go once he’s reunited with June and daughter Fay. Despite the melancholic and tragic subject matter, it’s a beautiful evening, the lyrics, poetry and dialogue resulting from the collaborations a rich, moving brew. There just wasn’t a weak moment. The refrain from ‘Bars And Multicoloured Chairs’ will stick long in the memory, applicable to ANY walk of life:

‘Learn to cope,

Nose like a sniffer dog,

I smell hope.’

Reviewer: Roger Jacobs

Reviewed: 8th March 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.