An installation of a theatre show

Joyce Macmillan, The Scotsman

Review of Selfish at The Arches Theatre, Glasgow

It's the title that holds the key to this latest piece of new work by director-designer Paul Burgess, specially commissioned by the Arches Theatre.

As much an installation as a theatre show, it’s a meditation on how ideas of the self are pieced together in a society where many of the social definitions of identity are fragmenting; it begins with a statement of the "selfish" philosophy of a generation of individualists, but soon begins to deconstruct the word in ways that invite thought rather than condemnation.

On stage, therefore, are three separate, cube-like rooms without walls; at the back of each is a screen carrying a range of images, from simple shadows and sheets of colour to film of street-life, and live video images of the three performers and the set.

Among these images, themes recur - the importance of clothes and dressing in constructing a sense of identity, an obsession with screen or mirror images of the self, a recurring fascination with cells and cell-structures, and a strange sense of scale, in which little plasticine figures in miniature virtual landscapes come to seem real.

And that is just about it; except that after 50 minutes or so of shifting images and ideas, the whole piece begins to develop a huge emotional momentum, as the detached image of a face wanders a little then fades, screens are packed away, and the shimmering light that sustained this world of perceptions fades to common day.

This is the kind of show that’s difficult to describe, and harder to recommend. But at the heart of it, there’s a serious, true and compassionate feeling for the human condition in the image-driven age of Big Brother; and a deep musicality about the expression of that feeling that finally becomes irresistible.

Images of the production


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