The reconstruction of Paul Bright’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner by Untitled Projects is a part-gallery part-theatrical production, that threatens, at points, to become a part-powerpoint experience.
Untitled Projects, who blend various techniques to create distinctive pieces of theatre, have chosen to examine an ambitious but largely forgotten theatre production of Confessions of a Justified Sinner by maverick Glaswegian director Paul Bright. During the late 80s in Glasgow, Paul Bright set about creating a defining version of a Scottish literary classic with which he was obsessed, to be staged in urban and landscape sites across Scotland.
Paul is no longer here to tell his story, so Untitled Projects have amassed an intricate archive, both physical and mental, of his production to celebrate a man, who they describe as a ‘unsung hero of Scottish theatre’.
I went to see this at The Tramway during its opening run, with no prior knowledge of Paul Bright but having read and loved James Hogg’s novel. Untitled Projects’ reconstruction is delivered to the audience through two different methods.
The first stop is a gallery space that contains a comprehensive compilation of artefacts from the production. There are letters, funding applications, video loops of castings & rehearsals, props, costumes, encircled paragraphs of text in Paul’s copy of the Confessions and more. As you wonder around you attempt to piece together clues as to how Paul’s production faired, why it has been chosen to be examined, and how this production is going to shed light on a past text and a more recent past production of that text. It’s all very intriguing!
And then the curtain call summons you through to the theatre space, where the rest of the production takes place on a near empty stage. What proceeds is a one-man show, as actor and one-time friend of Paul Bright, George Anton, addresses the audience directly. George offers a first-hand start to finish account of his encounters with Paul; from being cast in the main role of Paul’s Confessions, through the tumultuous rehearsals, chaotic productions, ‘mis-understood’ critical reception to the demise of their artistic and personal relationship.
George’s talk is illustrated with video footage of rehearsals and performances, which gives us a glimpse of the talented and temperamental Paul. There are also newly filmed interviews with other cast members, many of whom have gone on to become well kent faces on the Scottish drama scene, such as Alison Peebles.
As with all of Untitled Projects works this is an ambitious idea, as they examine a genius / maniac artist through the gathered fragments and stories of 25 years past; revisited now, out of time and context.
The attention to detail from the gallery to the stage is all excellent, even down to the freeze frames on the video segments, which are timed to capture telling expressions. It also does a great job of evoking a real sense of time and place of Glasgow during its cultural renaissance.
I also found this to be a fresh take on how to bring a well-known novel to the stage without simply just staging the novel as is; James Hogg’s classic is ripe for such treatment, considering its own liberalism with form. And despite this not being a retelling of the novel at all, the essence of the book does emanate over the whole production. The book’s themes of influence, self-belief, unreliable narration and folklore are effectively threaded through time and character, from novel to past staging to present retelling.
But where this fell short for me, was in its inability to maintain energy. The “one-man show” section needed to be much leaner to hold an audience’s attention. It’s just too dry a narrative style to sustain the running time and build the required tension. This was most notably demonstrated when the playing back of a voicemail, the last communication between the two old friends, failed to engage.
A fantastic and layered concept, well researched, assembled and delivered, but let down by the “presentation” delivery method, which resulted in many an audience member becoming fidgety.
*SPOILER ALERT* Someone had hinted to me, before I went in, that Paul Bright was a fictional character. I think I would have enjoyed this much more, if I hadn’t had that knowledge going in; to have had the natural journey of believing, doubting, questioning, and realisation, as intended would have been much more satisfying.