Hitch and Crunch

1 Oct 2012 in Dance & Drama, Highland, Showcase

Macphail Theatre, Ullapool, 28 September 2012, and touring

IT MAY be a somewhat heretical statement but it nonetheless contains more than a grain of truth; a night at the theatre can be a tedious undertaking.

HOWEVER, this is certainly not the case when the shows in question are Crunch and Hitch, a double bill currently touring from the Glasgow-based Arches Theatre Company.

Gary McNair in Crunch (photo Niall Walker)

Gary McNair in Crunch (photo Niall Walker)

Both glimmer with the iridescence of truth, sharply perceived and youthfully conveyed. The barometer of boredom did not so much as twitch at any point during either hour long one-man rendition.

Crunch is an examination of belief systems surrounding money, and the audience is challenged to re-evaluate the importance of materialism in their lives. Gary McNair, who is both writer and performer, presents a performance pegged around a notional five-step programme designed to liberate followers from blind, slavish devotion to the pursuit of financial clout.

Audience participation – that trusty device used in children’s theatre to counter limited attention spans – is bravely deployed. I would conjecture that the reaction of a Highland audience when presented with open questions relating to money is quite distinct from that of a Glasgow or Edinburgh based one. After all, few people live in the far north for reasons of fiscal gain. However, McNair was surefooted in improvising around whatever was thrown at him.

The very concept of audience participation can strike fear in the heart of the most dedicated of theatre aficionados. But in this instance there was nothing to worry about. An overriding ethos of respect and sensitivity underpinned the action and willing volunteers were tactfully dealt with.

It seems extraordinary that there has not been more recent theatrical examination of the cult of money and its overpowering influence on just about every aspect of modern existence.

After all, Robert Tressell’s novel The Ragged- Trousered Philanthropists, which was completed in 1910, has been produced for the stage many times and with much success since its posthumous publication in 1914. Perhaps it takes clear insight on the part of young people to resist hypnosis by powerful, widely accepted constructs about the nature of reality.

Kieran Hurley in Hitch (photo Niall Walker)

Kieran Hurley in Hitch (photo Niall Walker)

Hitch is a collaborative creation by Kieran Hurley and theatre artist Julia Tuadevin during which Hurley relays the story of his hitch-hiking odyssey across Europe to take part in the 2009 G8 protests in Italy. A deceptively simple production, it belies the considerable team effort which adds up to a fresh and engaging spectacle complete with original soundtrack by Glasgow-based band Over the Wall.

Rarely has a single performer succeeded in carrying the audience along with him so completely. Hurley was so absolutely engaged with his own imagination, that each emotion and each thought was clearly conveyed. His performance had a beguiling innocence undefiled by recourse to gimmick or trickery. And it was utterly enthralling.

People should not be deterred by the weighty subject matter of these two plays, or, in the case of Crunch, at the prospect that they may find themselves volunteering to take part.

In both pieces, an underlying compassion – shot through with pure unadulterated creative talent – makes light work of the serious business of making us hold our value system up to scrutiny. And that, I think is what theatre is meant to do.

If McNair, Hurley and their colleagues are anything to go by, the future of Scottish drama is in sure hands.

© Jenny McBain, 2012