Holden Street Theatres. 9 Mar 2012
This is not feel-good theatre. You don’t leave feeling uplifted or happy or laughing or even sad. Rather you feel deeply disturbed about what you have just seen and heard, but you know you have just experienced remarkably good theatre that does not get much better.
For me, Wee Andy has to be one of the top two shows of this Fringe. The programme notes stated that Wee Andy is the sister-play to Fleeto, also currently being performed by the same company, so maybe Wee Andy is one of the top three plays? I must see Fleeto as well!
Written and beautifully directed by Paddy Cunneen, Wee Andy is set in Glasgow and deals with ugly gang violence and how it indiscriminately and without remorse changes and destroys lives forever. It explores the aftermath of a savage knife attack on sixteen year old Andy (Nic Pernini) which leaves his face horribly and forever disfigured (memories of Unberbelly Razor). We witness the heart wrenching lament of his Mother (Pauline Knowles) and the dispassionate, but deeply felt, responses of the surgeon (Andy Clark) who is only able to partially repair the damage. We also hear the extremely disturbing explanation of Kenzie (Neil Leiper), the thug who perpetrated the crime, as to why he did it, and acts of desperate and intensely cruel old-testament-style revenge.
I repeat, this is not feel good theatre.
The script looks into possible reasons behind violent urban gang culture, and asks whether parents are to blame? The surgeon argues that a child is born good and pure, and regardless of the circumstances into which someone is born (his own family was poor) it is the responsibility of parents to ensure their children continually strive to do better. He asserts that there is too much “poverty of ambition”. Should children be removed from ‘bad parents’ and placed in the care of someone who can truly nurture? The Mother deeply regrets the physical environment in which she lives and has been forced to raise her son, and blames it to a degree on some of society’s ills, but she quickly notes that she and her family have steadfastly avoided being infected by it.
Whatever one’s personal beliefs and views about ‘who or what to blame’ Wee Andy leaves the audience deeply disturbed. What we see on stage is so compellingly real we feel part of the violence, we almost feel the kicks and punches, we feel demeaned by the powerfully course language, we applaud the surgeon who himself thuggishly restrains the thug, and we are inwardly pleased when the mother exacts retribution by pouring acid over Kenzie’s face.
This is a visceral experience, and it is so palpable because the acting ensemble is so very first rate. I cannot commend them too highly. Clark, Leiper and Knowles carry the bulk of the text, and they are superb. They are ably supported by Jordan McCurrach and Pernini. The compassion is real, the grief is real, the hatred is real – they absorb you fully into their world - and the direction is consummate. The play is violent, but it is delivered almost poetically. Cunneen drags you into this sordid world but sufficiently protects you from it at the same time by compelling you to think about how such things could happen and to ponder whether we are really innocent bystanders.
The set is ultra-simple – a perfectly black stage and three chairs, with superlative lighting by Sholto Bruce, and perfect mood music by Scott Twynholme. Cunneen’s methods for representing Andy’s contorted and slashed face and Kenzie’s acid burns will move you. The fight scenes were superbly staged, with the parties being often located in quite separate locations in the space. This clever device allowed the audience to concentrate on the attacker and the attacked quite separately.
Wee Andy should not be missed.
When: 11 to 17 Mar
Where: Holden Street Theatres - The Studio