If You're Feeling Sinister: A Play with Songs
Avalon and BBC Arts in association with Tron Theatre
Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose
There are pros and cons to basing any narrative around the works of a particular artist. As Mamma Mia, We Will Rock You or American Idiot have shown, taking a band's oeuvre, or indeed a single album, and constructing a musical narrative can be a runaway success. But as a litany of lesser entries have shown, it can also be a disaster.
It's understandable then that If You're Feeling Sinister, as it's subtitle denotes, is not a musical, but rather "a play with songs"; and Eve Nicol's adaptation of Belle and Sebastian's landmark 2nd album certainly doesn't fit the mould of a musical. Rather the songs pepper the play in the form of a soundtrack, but that is quasi-diagetically performed by the two cast members.
If that sounds a little vague and contradictory, then it suits the nature of the piece. In keeping with the style of Stuart Murdoch & co's songs, the story of Boss and Kid and their off-kilter relationship is thinly sketched and impressionistic rather than gritty and real.
That's not to say that Alan McHugh and Sarah Swire don't sell the performances. They embody the roles of the languid and disenchanted older Professor and his neophyte student-cum-lover perfectly. McHugh's Boss is a man tired by life, but greedily happy to revel in his power over Kid, while Swire is a fit of nervous energy, practically bursting from herself in fits and starts of freneticism as she glances around the stage and toward the audience.
The plot, such as it is, revolves around the change in their relationship, when Kid takes their role-playing a step too far and convinces Boss to help her steal a famous painting from the Kelvingrove Museum, only in doing so, bringing out their own insecurities and taking the relationship down twisting turns. It's an interesting if flimsy tale, with emotional beats that are pinned by the musical numbers and a capable choreography of Swire's own devising.
The plain fact is, if you came for the sort of unapologetically middle-class day dreamy story that is more often than not conjured up by the works of Belle and Sebastian, you won't be disappointed. Fans of the album will likely also love how the lyrics of the songs have been woven into the tale in a less than literal sense.
As such, this is a play that could be said to be a perfect adaptation of Belle and Sebastian's very essence to a new medium, and those who love the band will likely love it as well. Everyone else will be mildly amused by an hour of harmlessly fun musical fluff.
Reviewer: Graeme Strachan