Jock Tamson’s Bairns
Barry Church-Woods and Josef Church-Woods
Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh
You are invited in to what looks more like a gay bar than a theatre. It has almost a '90s feel, with the lighting and some of the apparel the characters are wearing.
The fact it’s immersive theatre doesn’t seem to have put anyone off sitting in the front, or perhaps they don’t know, or perhaps they want to be immersed. In case the idea of immersive theatre does worry you, you won’t be forced to get up and dance or perform or do any kind of weird task. There is some quite intense audience involvement, but it is all very clearly voluntary; the performers are very good at tactfully getting audience members to open up a la Graham Norton.
The performers by no means let this become a chat show either. They are quite happy hogging the limelight and it is almost certainly best described as queer cabaret, or simply cabaret. Isn’t all cabaret kind of queer?
The compère is a leather bear, Barry Church-Woods, who is also co-writer and director of the show, but there’s also a drag queen, Duchess, and several other strong singers. Giving us Madonna, Annie Lennox and Jimmy Somerville songs, some fun dance routines make use of the promenade runway set-up and an enthusiastic audience.
They also manage to fit in quite a lot of queer history, both Scottish and international, a fascinating and thankfully increasingly positive subject. The history is by no means dry, indeed some of stories simply told are some of the darkest most moving parts of the evening.
The concept of the show is great, but a few elements don’t work so well, I found the repeated seashore parable a bit twee. Involving particular audience members and getting them to tell their stories is done very smoothly. However some of the attempts to create more of a debate amongst the audience didn’t work quite so well. In particular an audience member brought up bi-erasure and this was dealt with a little flippantly. Several of the performers did open up about their experiences, but it would have been great to hear a bit more from all of them.
Overall, though, everyone is the audience seemed to leave both happy and also starting up many conversations about the topics raised in the piece. Not only is every show going to be different, but this feels like a show that is going to continue to develop, so why not get immersed?