I Can Go Anywhere is a light-footed, punchy examination of 21st century tribalism that wisely swerves seasonal buddy-comedy schmaltz. Instead, it delivers a compassionate plea to keep our hearts open to complicated humanity.
It’s not the most obviously festive offering in Edinburgh’s Christmas Theatre line-up- but scratch the pork-pie-hatted and dessy-booted surface and I Can Go Anywhere is pure Dickens. The Scrooge in this case being Stevie Thomas: disillusioned Glasgow academic and former British youth sub-culture fanboy. And it’s not three ghosts keeping him up all hours, but instead furiously cheerful asylum-seeker and Paul Weller devotee Jimmy, in the UK three weeks and in need of a favour. With his interview with the Home Office looming, the infectiously optimistic Jimmy is convinced a reference from the author of Mod bible Beat Surrender is all he needs to prove himself as British as British gets. Stevie however, smarting from a recent break-up and feeling himself on shifting sands, isn’t convinced it’s that simple.
Sounds kind of twee, right? Sounds like the kind of leftie-luvvie patronising surface-level pontification we could really do without on the eve of the most hope-draining political pie-fight since (checks notes) the last one?
Thank the Mod gods then that Maxwell’s script is admirably, flamboyantly, free of cheap idealism. Instead – through an unexpectedly incisive narrative and never wholly-sympathetic characterisation – this swift one-hour-twenty compassionately illuminates the pretentious gate-keeping attitudes that’ll be familiar to anyone who’s ever – ahem – attended a press night at a major new writing theatre. It might be fun taking the piss out of your learned mates who love Radiohead (despite only owning that one album). But what’s it called when you decide a person isn’t ‘legal’ because they don’t stack up against your tick-boxes of what modern Britishness looks like? Who gets to decide that? Could anyone ever be qualified enough to decide that?
Miraculously, Maxwell avoids cramming the pieces of our incredibly broken immigration system down our throats. Instead he instead lays them out, and reminds us that these questions require more understanding and hard work and compassion to solve than anyone is currently giving them.
A huge part of the success of I Can Go Anywhere is Nebli Basani’s central performance as Jimmy. Jimmy is an enigma wrapped in an oversized military parka, his huge frame and huge personality taking up the entirety of Stevie’s tiny flat from the moment he step over the doorstep. He’s classic Douglas Maxwell- a motor-mouthed caricature with far more swirling beneath the surface than appearances suggest, depth and meaning cracking his cartoonish exterior in perfectly pitched moments of pain, angst and sadness. Barely stopping for breath, Basani barrels along this emotional knife-edge and somehow, miraculously, never allows Jimmy to be anything less than heart-wringing.
Alongside this whirlwind, Paul McCole as Stevie has a bit of a time keeping up. It’s not until Stevie’s real spikiness appears and he’s allowed to hold forth on his own for a bit that the central power-struggle of the piece really becomes compelling. Eve Nichol’s direction suffers a similar early stalling. But, as the stakes get higher in the script, the action on stage finds its momentum. Jen McGinley’s set somehow manages to be both sparse and ingenious and there is a bright, nervous, dangerous energy to the piece that deserves- and maybe requires-a fuller audience than the one that arrived on an icy November election night.
There is nothing thunderously new in I Can Go Anywhere. For the most part the story is light and careful, punctuated with bursts of Mod classics. But through Stevie and Jimmy’s increasingly knotty back-and-forth, Maxwell neatly asks us to look at who makes the decisions of who belongs and who doesn’t, examine out own prejudices and remember our common, complicated humanity.
Dickens would probably say something about keeping Christmas in our hearts. As 2019 draws to a close, maybe Maxwell is reminding us more to keep our eyes open-and not get so caught up in who’s building the walls that we forget we’re probably standing behind one of our own.