Weird and wonderful, “Lanark” follows the eponymous character’s journey to discover his true identity – and the audience’s efforts to understand the story. While the original novel by Alastair Grey was called a “Scottish Ulysses”, director James Ralph’s “adaptation of an adaptation” could be described as a surrealist “1984”. Time and space morph in DramaSoc’s latest production, where characters slowly become dragons, a film director bursts onto stage and a man is born fully grown. Truly, “Lanark” is a play that defies explanation.
With a minimalistic set design consisting only of a double bed and every actor decked in the same uniform, the performance rested on the acting alone; a challenge handled brilliantly by “Lanark”’s cast. Physical movement and lighting were both used well to facilitate the action, with spotlights and formations worthy of a dance crew complementing the surrealism of the play. Lead actor Dan South shone in his portrayal of Lanark, a man who finds himself alone and devoid of memories in Unthank, a dystopian city filled with eclectic and shady characters. Evie Jones also deserves a great deal of credit for her amazing variety in performance. A troubled young woman, a dragon with wings created from a bed-sheet, a wife, a mother, a childhood sweetheart: it would be easier to name a role that Jones did not create in “Lanark.” Each was as realistically portrayed as the last in a very powerful performance.
Time and space morph, whereby characters slowly become dragons, a film director bursts onto stage and a man is born fully grown. “Lanark” defies explanation.
Responsible for creating a variety of characters and settings at a startling pace, the ensemble handled a mammoth task incredibly smoothly. Almost all the actors met the challenge of multiple roles, even breaking the fourth wall and appearing as actors on a film set when it is revealed Lanark’s struggles lie with the fact he is a character being controlled by an author. What was particularly impressive about ‘Lanark’’s cast was their ability to maintain character and atmosphere throughout the comedic interchanges peppered throughout the play. An unexpected feature of a dark, dystopian tale, snide remarks and lewd jokes were certainly not used sparingly.
“Lanark” seemed to rely on comedy more than anything else throughout and unfortunately this was not entirely effective. Plot and emotional impact alike were quite easily lost in the audience’s laughter, in a play where the story was already difficult enough to establish. Act One began somewhat abruptly, where the audience are thrown into Lanark’s experiences in Unthank with little explanation and henceforth hurdled into a mental institute and his escape through an intergalactic vortex. This sporadic storytelling did serve to mimic the confusion Lanark himself feels as he struggles to find his own identity in a morally corrupt world, but also limited the impact of South’s acting in particular on the audience too focused on deciphering the story. Things did pick up in Act Two, where Lanark uses futuristic technology called the Oracle to discover his past as an Art student, acted out by the ensemble around him. However, the sheer volume of events and characters overwhelmed the time limit of the play where the audience were left largely unaffected by Lanark’s eventual death and the ambiguous fate of his love interest, Rema.
A strange dichotomy between light-hearted humour and a gritty dystopian reflection on our own ideas of class and identity, “Lanark” is a play than one must judge for themselves. The surrealist play leaves itself open for a thousand different interpretations, where the audience is encouraged not only to think about politics and philosophy but are also left wondering what was real and imagined in the play. To say it is a strange experience would be an understatement, but to say it is a very intriguing one certainly is not.