Reviews Edinburgh Published 27 August 2013

Whatever Gets You Through the Night

The Queen's Hall ⋄ 20th-25th August 2013

A mixed bag of vignettes.

Catherine Love

The middle of the night – or, more accurately, the early hours – is the backdrop to many of life’s most intense experiences. The tipsy encounter that became your first love; the night that you’ll never forget; those youthful, booze-fuelled moments in which you walk through dark streets feeling like you can take on the whole world. Later in life, those late night snapshots become the hours of worry and the faint glimmers of hope, waiting up for loved ones or reliving cherished memories. This is the loose premise for Whatever Gets You Through the Night, which clashes together numerous art forms to offer a series of fleeting portraits of those heady hours. The banal, the ecstatic and the mournful all vie for attention between the setting and rising of the sun.

A modern day, multimedia variety show of sorts, this collection of drama, dance, song and circus was created by Cora Bissett, Swimmer One and David Greig and features contributions from writers such as Alan Bissett, Stef Smith and Kieran Hurley. It’s an undeniably impressive line-up, but the show struggles to marry its separate parts into a cohesive whole. Other than the time of night, the separate scenes have little in common; they range from drunken student parties to late night Skype dates, from a woman in labour to a man bidding a poignant farewell to his wife. This diversity of offerings is interesting in itself, speaking of the huge scope of human experience contained within just a few hours, but many of the scenes are too slight or short-lived to leave much of an impression. The result is both too much and not enough, offering ambitious breadth but rarely sufficient depth.

There are, however, some stunning moments that emerge from this mixed bag of vignettes. Kieran Hurley provides perhaps the most memorable bit of writing with a simple but vivid account of the walk home from a club, brilliantly capturing the heightened, almost hallucinatory quality of the streets in the early hours and the ambivalent cocktail of emotions that accompanies the end of a night out. The acrobatics, meanwhile, are often dazzling, particularly an aerial silk sequence that concludes with the performer crafting herself a hammock in which she peacefully reclines after a night of revelling. There’s also plenty of humour, be it the bittersweet comedy of an online romance or the inner workings of a drunk body hilariously reimagined as a Star Trek-style mission manned from the booze-impaired brain.

But the overall effect remains patchy, while the piece suffers from a mismatch with its venue. Although The Queen’s Hall offers ample space for the show’s gorgeous aerial stunts, much of the time it simply feels too big and impersonal for the small stories that it plays host to. Bissett originally brought together this collection of contributions for The Arches in Glasgow, a space with more intimate architecture and – as a club and gig venue – a real connection with the late night culture being depicted. Shifted to this concert hall, it all feels a little forced. In order to work, these scenes need to feel thrilling, immediate, real. At a distance, however, they all too often come across as beautiful but empty spectacle.


Catherine Love

Catherine is a freelance arts journalist and theatre critic. She writes regularly for titles including The Guardian, The Stage and WhatsOnStage. She is also currently an AHRC funded PhD candidate at Royal Holloway, University of London, pursuing research into the relationship between text and performance in 21st century British theatre.

Whatever Gets You Through the Night Show Info

Produced by The Arches

Directed by Cora Bissett



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