Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Title: Building Skyscrapers
Theatre Company: Highway Diner
Venue: The Arches

Building Skyscrapers is described as a work in progress, as a combination of Ballardian paranoia and cyberpunk dystopia, about commercialism and propaganda. All that caught my attention, made me curious. The play was put on in the back room of The Arches in Glasgow, a little theatre space within a tunnel system beneath Glasgow's central station - other spaces here being used for clubs and gigs, though its been a good while since I saw anything like theatre here. Building Skyscrapers is performed by only 4 people, who flit from part to part as needed, but at the core there are 4 characters - a young couple, a news reporter and the Prime Minister.

The girl goes out to work every day, trying to make ends meet. When she gets home from work she has to do everything round the house as well. Her boyfriend sits in bed with his laptop - working on his album. Tensions naturally abound. Their life has a backdrop of car commercials, car crashes, and the war against terror. The boyfriend is still a student idealist at heart, combating the system by shouting at the television. While the girlfriend fights for life by trying to ensure she knows where the next penny is coming from.

The reporter delivers the latest bad news. Chaos. Death. Explosions. Tries to persuade a secret source to blow the whistle, assures him he will be safe only when everyone knows what he knows. She attends a press conference given by the Prime Minister - a cheap children's party magician who treats the journalists like children, and they sit there with party hats and party blowers, and wave their hands, eager for attention.

Initially I am non-plussed by the piece. Not entirely sure what is going on, or what the piece is about. Members of the audience laugh for no reason I can fathom, I laugh for reasons apparently no one else can fathom. But as the play goes on, some of the performances/scenes emerge, they work. Parts of it are annoying, the whole doesn't seem to make any real sense, the play doesn't have as much impact or coherence as it should do. And yet...

There is something. Something in the real conclusion, as opposed to the epilogue, has a definite power. The stage has a brick building at the back, with a low roof that the actors can access - from here one person starts throwing clothes, paper aeroplanes, the room fills with smoke, a woman comes on screaming and wailing cradling empty clothes like a corpse, people run with panic. As the scene progresses there is so much smoke the smoke alarm is set off, the couple layout the clothes and we see that each form a set, lined up they are the bodies of the dead. The wailing mother switches back to her role as newscaster, loops through chaos, plane crashes, bombs, dropping words, skipping like a traumatised and broken record. The Prime Minister emerges from the smoke, he wraps his hands around the newsreader's neck and throttles her, strangles her to death. She slumps to the ground, death of the media, as the Prime Minister turns to the audience and lets loose torrents of double speak, propaganda and denial.

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