Lanark – A Life in Three Acts

David Greig, adapted from Alasdair Gray’s Novel
Citizens Theatre
Royal Lyceum Theatre

Sandy Grierson Credit: Eoin Carey

In a city where the ephemeral has become the norm, certainly on the Fringe, Lanark is a shock to the system. Even heavily condensed from Alasdair Gray’s highly personal 1981 novel, this adaptation by David Greig still comes in at a fraction under four hours. It even contains not one example of that almost defunct tradition the interval but two.

The creative team that includes Greig’s long-term collaborator, director Graham Eatough, has worked overtime to do justice to a long, complex novel which many would have considered unstageable.

In doing so, they present the almost psychedelic dual biography of a man “famous for doing weird things for no reason at all”.

In the first of the three acts (actually following the novel’s structure act two), where Sandy Grierson as a man named Lanark drifts from living reality into a space somewhere between dream and nightmare, much of the action is enhanced by the use of spectacular computer-generated images.

At times, the impression is more of watching a blockbuster horror movie rather than a play but the impact does full justice to the original.

After the first interval, we regress to the childhood and youth of Duncan Thaw, at times played by the whole of the ten-strong cast as a kind of chorus.

Thaw is the ultimate misfit who appears out of place from primary school onwards. The sickly asthmatic’s attempts to avoid unpopularity rarely have any effect but at least the young man’s dedication to his art provides some comfort.

David Greig has a good understanding of his material and manages to convey the needed parallels between Lanark of act two and Thaw of act one, showing both as fevered products of the same mind.

After the second interval, we return to the world of Lanark and his weary, no-nonsense girl Rima, played by Jessica Hardwick, otherwise part of a diverse but adaptable ensemble of whom Andy Clark and Gerry Mulgrew particularly catch the eye.

Now, as Lanark becomes a father, the sci-fi elements back away, leaving something closer to political satire. Of all people to save his city, Unthank, from the prospect of being eaten up, our man takes centre stage as its new provost and travels overseas to attempt a rescue.

His history is such that the outcome is predictable, though its achievement on stage may not be.

At this point, with the audience tiring, the team inject a section of playful metatheatricality, which is refreshing, amusing and makes sense in the context of a self-centred misfit in a fix.

This interlude (accompanying several programmed in from the novel) merely staves off the inevitable ending to an epic journey for all concerned.

Lanark on stage is a fine tribute to the novel, projecting its sweep and essence into a new form that will be appreciated both by those who know the book and others who might be tempted to give it a try.

This is a long but rewarding evening that challenges the intellect at the same time as providing enough wit and drama to keep viewers going from the start to the final goodbye.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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