BWW Reviews: Up, Return to Work @ CCA - Glasgay! 2010

In this edgy production from Return to Work, directed by Rosalind Sydney, debut writer James Ley tells the story of Robert, a young, gay school teacher who finds himself on a psychiatric ward, recovering from a mental collapse.

In a heady blend of tragedy and black comedy, Ley layers incidents from Robert's past - schoolyard myths, his failure as a teacher, the attraction to a 17 year old pupil that still both haunts and arouses him - with sharp observation of life on the psychiatric ward and the violence and sexual depravaty of his fellow 'inmates'. It's an interesting mix that produces a dream-like effect appropriate to the subject matter of psychological torment, as Robert contemplates - in a detached and non-linear manner - the events that lead him to where he is, and plans where his story will end; with his own suicide.

Mental illness is a tricky subject matter, and one that Ley never shies away from throughout the play's fifty minutes. Of particular note is Robert's relationship with 'silent witness' Stuart, the roommate who much of his monologue is directed towards. It's never made explicit - and never entirely clear - whether Stuart exists, or whether he's a figment of Robert's irrational imagination. It's a difficult subject matter that Ley approaches with humour and wit, although never without an uncomfortable undercurrent. Indeed, as the play reaches a particularly grim and grisly climax - quickly pulling together a number of disparate threads - it's a moment of deep and squirming discomfort, undercut at the last minute by a killer closing line.

Ley addresses Robert's sexuality with both honesty and sensitivity, as the character torments himself over his attraction to young boys, eventually invoking scenes of obsense sexual violence delivered with tangible frenzy and intensity by actor Laurie Brown.

Indeed, it would be easy to characterise Robert as a mad-eyed villain, or otherwise throw fits across the stage to represent his torment. That Brown offers a more reasoned approach to Robert's madness - if such a thing is possible - is to his great credit. His calm, almost sensible delivery of Robert's reflection is remarkable, his dead pan inflection bringing the blackly comic element of Ley's script to the forefront without reverting to camp. Ultimately, Brown imbues the character - who's self-loathing and self-pity might otherwise have become waring - with a likability that adds a weight to the play's deep sadness.

Perhaps the only real criticism of the production, then, lies in the venue, a medium-sized fringe theatre that doesn't quite work given the intimacy of the script.

The dramatic monologue is not to everyone's taste, and the setting and subject matter - sexuality on the psych ward - mean that Up is definitely one for a fringe crowd. But for anyone in search of rich, edgy theatre and new Scottish writing talent, this one comes highly recommended.

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From This Author Michael Richardson

Michael Richardson is a theatre fan based in Scotland.