DTF Review: Paul Bright’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner

A forgotten Scottish director’s incredible adaptation of an epic fiction is the basis for a riveting study in obsession

For both the audience and Anton, it becomes an absorbing journey

For both the audience and Anton, it becomes an absorbing journey

 

Peacock Theatre

****

 

Were it not for the heroic reconstruction efforts of Scotland’s Untitled Projects, there’s a good chance we’d never have heard of the maverick Scottish director Paul Bright at all. There are some good reasons for this: theatre is an ephemeral business, a challenge to document, and careers as short-lived and radical as Bright’s are easily forgotten.

However, dutiful as director Stewart Laing, writer Pamela Carter and performer George Anton appear to be, their artfully thorough presentation of an incredibly ambitious production from the late 1980s realises that this isn’t really about Bright; it is a riveting study in obsession.

Obsession befits Bright’s source material: James Hogg’s complex 19th-century novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, an elaborate experiment in truth and fiction that presented itself as a real history of a soul’s corruption, ruptured by shifting devices and layers of commentary.

Laing’s production has its own series of frames, beginning with an exhibition of artefacts and recordings that chronicle Bright’s six-episode adaptation in the foyer (you’re advised to get there early). Paradoxically, though, you feel the point is that the performances resisted capture.

As the engagingly hesitant Anton explains his connection to the material, inspired to present it by Bright’s death, what we do see of these performances is cheeringly naff, then increasingly unhinged and even marvellous.

An outdoor procession leading to a pub in Glasgow, a nearly aborted overnight pageant in Edinburgh, and reports of a nine-hour experimental performance come buffeted by video interviews with contemporary theatre makers who look askance on Bright’s work, yet identify with his consuming struggle.

For both the audience and Anton, it becomes an absorbing journey, to the point of demonic possession. Anton, who left Bright’s project to pursue a TV career, is accused of selling his soul, describing acting as “lying and getting away with it”, as though making his own guilty confession. That further shrinks the gap between art and life, already perilously narrow here, and amplifies a preoccupation of this year’s festival: presenting reality on stage while slyly undermining it.

This transfixing production artfully straddles the same fault line, where life and fiction observe no strict boundaries, and art resembles both a thrilling and unsettling form of madness. Until Oct 11

 

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