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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Astonishing Archie, theatre review

Published in the Guardian

A Play, a Pie and a Pint, Oran Mor, Glasgow
Three stars

THEY discovered Elvis, they discovered sex, they discovered material wealth. Now the baby boomers are discovering death. The results can be maudlin and introspective – but not in the case of Astonishing Archie. Not only is Bill Paterson's three-hander perfectly pitched at a sell-out audience, but it is witty, self-aware and quietly observant about the way death makes us reflect on life.

Big Archie Martin has breathed his last, and bequeathed a problem to his two friends: what song to play at his funeral. His dying wish was simply to astonish him. For younger brother Allan, played with characteristic warmth by Paterson himself, it seems obvious that only a piece of vintage rock'n'roll will suffice. By contrast, elder brother Ronnie (played by Kenny Ireland) has no doubt Archie shared his love of Sinatra.

Paterson plays with a contradiction. On the one hand, two men fighting over their favourite records is comically pathetic. The funeral gives their bickering a greater intensity, but their argument is essentially trivial. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter whether Archie goes out with Hound Dog or My Way. On the other hand, though, those records can have a profound presence on people's lives.

The tone of the play is light and funny, but in between the gags, Paterson deftly describes how Ronnie's generation embraced the easy-listening romance of the rat pack, while Allan's generation hungered for the raw energy of rock'n'roll. In this sense, those songs are not trivial at all – at the point of death and reflection, they define a whole life.

Sharon Small presides over the fraternal dispute as a leather-jacketed Church of Scotland minister, and director Marilyn Imrie uses a thrust stage to bring the action into the audience, giving the production extra body and the breezy comedy extra weight.

© Mark Fisher, 2012 (pic: Leslie Black)

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