Tuesday, May 28

Crocodile Rock – Traverse Theatre

Andy McGregor’s Crocodile Rock evokes Elton John and his sexuality through the title, before the actual landmark on Milport in the West of Scotland is overtly referenced. So, the audience is primed to expect a tale with a gay man at the centre.

Sexual desire is an old story: as old as time itself. We are not all heterosexual. Some of us don’t fit in. Difference can seem threating. If you stand outside the norm, life can be cruel and folk hard-hearted. Yet, Stephen’s story has a lively freshness that is as unique as Scotland. You can tell that Andy McGregor loves creating stories for wee folk as much as for adults. The sense of fun and his simple rhyming songs appeal to the child in all of us.

On this tiny island of Milport, a lost and lonely boy finds his alter ego and his sense of power through drag. It is a touching and heroic story, funny and brutal at the same time. The loss of dignity, the family betrayal, the kindness of strangers – these are all aspects which are sensitively opened and examined. The comedy is endearing and the physical theatre engaging.

Sleeping Warrior Theatre Company’s production is brought to the stage in association with Beacon Arts Centre and Cumbernauld Theatre at Lanternhouse. It is textured and beautifully rendered by Stephen Arden. His performance is spot on. He plays multiple characters, each of them bursting into life at the click of his fingers.  It is a pity that the lighting occasionally missed the spot this evening, but that does not detract from Arden’s fabulous storytelling and note-perfect singing.

The audience were right behind this performer. There was a standing ovation, despite the fact they did not sing along as requested. Arden’s acknowledgement that he “really needed you to sing along with me”, was coupled with an attitude of “no-hard-feelings”. This sums up the mood of the show and the overall tenor of the performance. Arden is a man who knows what he’s doing and he’s doing it with his heart and soul. He clearly enjoys playing multiple characters. He is a pleasure to watch. His small set of musicians were the perfect foil, and their simple, occasional banter made the set genuine and truthful.

Crocodile Rock is pertinent for our times. The rainbow movement is proud and loud and the fear of difference is slowly being eroded. Schools are keen to teach and demonstrate inclusion and fairness all round and this is gradually seeping into wider society.

The audience were young. They were thirsty for this genre. What was lovely, was the bedroom scene. It was so innocent and open and naive. It was infatuation exactly the same as it is for all of humanity, regardless of preferences. The set was simple and effective, ideal for this straightforward narrative of life in a small community and how a stranger makes all the difference.

By the end, I wanted to be as adept at saying the right thing and being as utterly supportive as Stephen’s “wee maw”. That’s great characterisation.

Reviewer: Kathleen Mansfield

Reviewed: 25th October 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★