On the Island of Aars
Book and lyrics by Chris Larner, music by Mark Stevens
Pleasance Theatre, Islington
Welcome back the absurd! Quuup productions describe themselves as 'flicking the arse of theatre with the damp towel of song' which might warn you that this is no well-made play or Lloyd-Webber production spectacle. A cyclorama cloth, a three-dimensional fibreglass rock and some scenic pieces the cast push on themselves keep things simple and swift moving but there is nothing stripped down about the talent and energy of the performers. They win the audience over within moments of the show beginning with the appearance of former heavy-metal star Dave Bladget. Played by Chris Larner (also writer and director) with a Black Country accent and a long-locked unkempt wig, he begs us 'Don't think badly of me - I'm only a bass player.' This is a bass player who has been in a heavy-metal dream for twenty-three years, ever since he backed out on his responsibilities and hid himself on a cave on Aars (and yes, you could pronounce that as either 'ours' or 'arse').
Since Dave hides from the others on the island they don't know that he's there. There seem to be only three of them, the rest left long ago. They are two rival Calvinistic preachers and innocent Morag McMacMcMacMcMac, about to celebrate her 23rd birthday, who has carried on as post mistress since her mother died and daily goes to meet the mail boat that never comes. Laura Main is a delightfully sprightly Morag trilling like a little bird and Michael Wilson plays both the ministers, distinguished by The Donald of Donald being somewhat stricter than Hamish MacSurname whom he thinks an instrument of the devil because he flourishes a bright blue neck-tie. Morag secretly dreams of one day eating pizza and believes her island is actually a giant turtle.
This status quo is shattered by the arrival of an EU Health and Safety Officer, a trousered lesbian from the Netherlands whom they think is a man. While literally wrapping everything in 'Keep Out' tape as not meeting regulations, she opportunistically seduces Morag and deludes herself into believing that Dave's talk of rock and heavy metal and the gold and platinum he won means that the island is a metallurgical marvel.
Despite the swirling island mists this is no ordinary Hibernian romance, though full of a very particular Scottish whimsy. The four performers have a clever, if totally zany text to work with and some sprightly and sometimes deliberately derivative tunes - with composer Mark Stevens at the keyboard very much part of the action that make this whole show a delight provided that you are prepared to go along. Resist and it could become tedious, but if I haven't already put you off entirely you should enjoy its carefully crafted silliness.
Ends at Pleasance Islington 31st January 2009
Original Edinburgh Festival production reviewed by Peter Lathan (2008)
Reviewer: Howard Loxton