Russian composer Igor Stravinsky’s classical piece The Rite Of Spring, which is one hundred years old this year, fused dissonance with harmony to startling effect. Today it is regarded as a seminal work, but to conservative ears at the time it was not only unpalatable, but nothing short of a scandal, culminating in riots.
In August 2011, a similar sense of outrage erupted in street riots all across major cities in England in the wake of the police shooting of 29 year old Londoner Mark Duggan.
In this new collaboration between the National Theatre of Scotland and The Arches, writer and director Rob Drummond correlates the nation politically divided, yet united in anger, alongside the sense of shock that Stravinsky’s masterpiece provoked in 1913. He singles out fifteen year old Selina Quinn, who became a mouth piece for the 2011 London riots following her arrest, as the ‘Sacrificial Virgin’, a pivotal character in Stravinsky’s original ballet.
In examining both the vilification and idiocy of the so-called ‘underclass’, all opinions are aired, with a right-wing bigot expressing his disgust at unemployed people with an inflated sense of entitlement; contrasting the escalating despair of those who feel that there is little hope in a city with nothing much to live for. He also scrutinises the incendiary influence of trial by media.
The trio of performers, comprising Drummond himself, Peter Nicholson on cello and dancer Robbie Synge, are poised like Easter Island figures in grey hoodies as the audience trickle in. Initially, they represent Drummond’s inner monologues, who tease the audience with the possibility of performing The Rite Of Spring. (Spoiler: they don’t.)
Together, they dance their own clumsy ballet, interspersing the pratfalls and glides with plainsong, religious rhetoric, folkish jigs and a karaoke version of Blondie’s ‘Maria,’ snarkily dedicated to recently appointed Culture Secretary Maria Miller, who regards culture in Britain as merely ‘a commodity’.
The strongest elements occur when Drummond explores masculinity and outsider status, as with the B- Boy posturing and bad pseudo-Marxist poetry, yet the jocular tone often dilutes the anger of his polemic, as a brief ‘intermission’,(which involves the concept of ‘something for nothing’ by providing audience members with free booze), proves; it feels a little like padding.
An interesting slab of performance art with some worthwhile ideas, but it nonetheless could do with being more subversive if it’s to hit harder.