The Pure, The Dead & The Brilliant

The Pure, The Dead and The Brilliant is a new satire from Alan Bissett. Directed by Sacha Kyle, it asks some overlooked questions about Scotland today: what would happen if the bogles, banshees, demons and selkies of Scots folklore began to interfere in the independence referendum?[1]

In this self-deprecating panto style piece which draws on Scotland’s music hall traditions and is therefore fair hoachin wi Scottish clichés and parodies, we are in the underworld of bogles, banshees, demons and selkies who, it turns out, have been feeding off human misery for centuries. It is their faerie mischief that is behind world events so why would they not have a hand in Scotland’s independence referendum?[2]

The premise was that in the event of a Yes vote, the faeries would lose their special powers along with the ballads that go with them but …would become human and revel in their new experiences.[2] On the stage furnished with some rustic furniture decorated with spidery webs,…[2] We watch the spirit world work its way through a cycle of seduction, delusion, doom and fear and the cringing mind-set of being ‘too poor, too wee, too stupid’ was shown in fine variety show style for the most part.[2]

Starring comedienne/actress Elaine C Smith as the titular Banshee, Paul James Corrigan (River City?) as the Bogle – a loyal member of the Tartan Army, Michele Gallagher as the Selkie. Martin McCormick plays the dark Lord Black Donald of the Faslane Naval Base, whose speech against independence to the fairy parliament was a phenomenal parody, brilliantly delivered, of the entire No campaign strategy, while his anglified accent subtly underscored the distance between the establishment figures he represented and the other ordinary Scots characters.[3].

The Pure, The Dead and the Brilliant has been financed entirely by crowdfunding from pro-independence supporters and campaigners[2] and is essentially Bissett’s satirical poem ‘Vote Britain’ made flesh.[2] As such, the show makes no apology for having an opinion on Scottish independence, demonstrating one of the great things about theatre – that it can take a stand on issues where other forms of media feel the need for enforced neutrality, and prove that passion is not a vice. It’s not all a simplistic take on the issue either, acknowledging Scotland’s own dark ghosts of colonialism and emphasizing that independence would no doubt not always be plain sailing, even if the play finds it the preferable option in comparison to current constitutional arrangements.[3]

The show climaxed with a mock ballot and standing ovation from this mostly partisan, near capacity audience…[2]

I had high hopes for the show and I’m not entirely sure whether it fully delivered or not. The partisan nature of the production gave it a preaching to the converted feel. It was good but there was a lot of anger in the writing, which combined with the mock vote at the end, seemed likely to alienate those that disagreed (or even those from outside Scotland). The likely consequence of that is to put those people on the back foot, which will make them feel defensive and surely only harden attitudes and opinions. I was hoping for some more biting and comedic satire, given how easy a target Alaister Darling is for ridicule.

[1] The Edinburgh Reporter. Edinburgh Festival Fringe – The Pure, The Dead and The Brilliant. By Mike Smith. Published On: Mon, Jul 28th, 2014 at 9:47am. Retrieved 24 August 2014.
[2] The Pure, the Dead and the Brilliant, Assembly Rooms, Review. By Irene Brown, 02 August 2014. Retrieved 24 August 2014.
[3] EDINBURGH 2014 – BWW Reviews: THE PURE, THE DEAD AND THE BRILLIANT, Assembly Rooms, August 4 2014. By Amy Hanson, 10:08 AM August 5 2014. Retrieved 24 August 2014.

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