Friday, November 09, 2007

Title:Venus As A Boy
Adapted:Tam Dean Burn From the novel by Luke Sutherland
Directed:Tam Dean Burn & Christine Devaney
Music: Luke Sutherland
Venue: Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, 8th November 2007

Venus As A Boy is the third novel by Luke Sutherland, musician turned writer. Sutherland was born in England, and adopted by Scottish parents who raised him in Orkney amongst other places. Sutherland played in the band Long Fin Killie, worked with Mogwai and formed the band Bows. According to the story, in book and play adaptation of the book, Sutherland was approached by a skin head after a gig. The skin head said he knew a male prostitute, an Orkadian boy working out of Soho. A man called Cupid or Desiree, turning to gold, who remembers Sutherland from Orkney - there weren't too many black boys there, beaten and called names.

Sutherland chased the skin head off, but not long after a box of mini discs arrived at his record label. The life story of Cupid, parts of which Sutherland recalled from his childhood, parts which he didn't. Regardless he felt compelled to transcribe the story, publishing Venus As A Boy after Cupid's death. In 2003 with a proof copy of the work, he bumped into actor, writer, director Tam Dean Burn. Tam a Scot, living in London, who had lost track with Sutherland, but having read about Venus, was interested in catching up and discussing the project.

From 2003 to this summer, the pair worked with co-director Christine Devaney, to adapt the book into a one man show. The show debuted in Orkney, though I gather the novel had previously had a mixed reaction from the islanders thanks to their depiction. Since then it has toured, like Cupid working its way down south - part of the Edinburgh Festival, a session in London. Having skipped Glasgow, the production returns now, for a run in the Citizen's Theatre. Presented in the studio theatre, with limited room, the entire run has sold out.

The room is a square, 3 steps of seats round the sides, the audience sat on cushions, so all in all fairly casual. Tam and Luke enter the room together, and Tam explains the history of the story, taking on the part of Cupid in the process. Tam takes us from childhood discoveries and sexuality, through to adult despair. From a tough childhood in Orkney, through visions of heaven and angels, to a suicidal adulthood. The boy is named Cupid by his first girlfriend when she discovers his magic power - to give anyone incredible sexual pleasure. His blessing and his curse.

The performance is mixed with live music from Sutherland, a soundtrack of guitar and violin, layering atmospherically at key points. It feels strange to have Sutherland as on looker, standing an arms breadth away from where we sit. Other than his instruments he is silent, nods every so often in response to Cupid's prompts, adding occasional other gestures. It feels, in someway, like Luke is more of a witness to the performance than we are - the perpetual black boy who Cupid stops and nods too in acknowledgment.

Venus As A Boy is part fairytale, part tragedy. It is suggested it is a true story, but with angels and a golden child, there will be doubters. With only two people in performance, the piece is restrained, but has a definite energy as Tam works out the part derived from Luke's words.

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