Rob Drummond play focuses on art, but never purely for art's sake
When the Glasgow School of Art burned down for the second time, the repercussions could be felt worldwide – not just for those who for many months lost their homes and livelihoods, but for a building inextricably linked with Glasgow's rich cultural history, and its celebrated creator, Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
Rob Drummond's new play focuses on this legacy, and with a lyrical script fusing together three contrasting perspectives, on the damage done not only to the building, but the traumas within Mackintosh himself (James McAnerney) the fireman suffering PTSD (John Michie) and the GSA's expert (Janet Coulson).
Rife with symbolism (white horses, ravens and paper) Drummond's script looks at the arguments that when art is cut from a city, the people suffer. Impermanence and the tools we use to give shape to thoughts are debated in the three character's voices.
Mackintosh wonders whether his life's work can carry weight, when he is so lonely and missing his true love Margaret; the expert believes that it's people, not the architecture, who are at the heart of a building, yet suffers cognitive dissonance when the fire occurs. Meanwhile, the fireman is finally triggered as the building burns.
All self-medicate, all are troubled individuals seeking meaning in a world seemingly bereft of hope and purity. The characters of Mackintosh (wounded, vulnerable, romantic in spite of himself) and the fireman (once swaggering, now broken) are well-rounded. Only the expert, despite a fine performance by Coulson, seems like a conduit for both the history of Mackintosh, and the argument for art as providing meaning, rather than a fleshed-out character.
Yet, this piece, co-produced with the Traverse Theatre, is moving, wry and timely, giving life to Mackintosh's mantra of 'Crawl, stumble, stagger … but go alone'. Lives and art, it would seem, are bound together, like the pages of history.
Oran Mor, Glasgow, until Sat 20 Apr; Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Mon 22 Apr–Sat 27 Apr.