The Beautiful Cosmos Of Ivor Cutler
Vanishing Point and National Theatre of Scotland
Eden Court, Inverness
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IT’S no mean task to try to tell eccentric Scottish performer Ivor Cutler’s life story and capture the unique tragi-comic essence of the man and his poems, stories and songs.
The Beautiful Cosmos Of Ivor Cutler takes a three-strand approach.
The Vanishing Point and The National Theatre of Scotland show dramatises his life, performs his work with a live band, but also powers the show forward with an actor preparing for a new show where he will play Ivor (Sandy Grierson) by getting in touch with the late Ivor’s partner Phyllis King (Elicia Daly) “to find out about the day-to-day Mr Cutler”.
At first, she is reluctant to reveal much about Ivor and is suspicious of the idea of the show. But the slowly building relationship of trust and friendship between Sandy and Phyllis anchors the drama.
Before the first preview night in the OneTouch last week – after a week of final rehearsals based at Eden Court. – artistic director Matthew Lenton reminded the sell-out crowd that it was the first time the show was to be performed in front of an audience.
“Basically anything can happen,” he told us. “You are the first people in the world to experience it and I hope you like it – with all its rough edges.”
But there were just a couple of glitches. In the first half, a curtain apparently came down at the wrong time, followed later by the curtain apparently coming up too soon. The technical team may have been worrying behind the scenes, but it was lightly dealt with by the cast – Sandy Grierson adding the odd jokey reference while briefly firefighting his way through to get back on track, script in hand. For the audience, it was just a slightly bizarre moment or two in a show that made a virtue of them.
Many of the turning points in Ivor’s career were bizarre and the show matched the whimsicality that was part of the charm of Ivor and his work. We got a beautiful yellow-clad insect lady for Ivor to sing and dance with while he was an RAF navigator and finally dismissed for being “too dreamy”, Phyllis told us. The band became the naughty children, as Ivor – beaten with the belt regularly when he was a schoolboy – rebelled as a teacher and chopped up his tawse rather than discipline the pupils as his headmaster wanted. Each half was introduced with an audio conversation between Ivor and God. And as well as turning the audience into exhibits during Ivor and Phyllis’s trip to the zoo, Ivor shouted to the soundman to bring the volume down (in real life he championed the Noise Abatement Society) and wanted the lights dimmed to be “more miserable” ie dark.
One of the most hilarious moments came when the Cutler family piano’s missing notes – and the surreal effect it had – was demonstrated as the song Loch Lomond was performed, complete with the gaps, Ivor tetchily complaining to the band at the end “Loch Lomond was in E flat!”.
Lots of Ivor’s songs, poems and stories are performed in the show – including several moments from the Life In A Scotch Sitting Room tales, Little Black Buzzer, A Doughnut In My Hand, Squeeze Bees, The Obliging Fairy, Fly Sandwich and Rubber Toy - many greeted with cheers last week by a crowd who knew and loved their Cutler.
It was a beautifully-played performance from Sandy Grierson – also behind the play’s text – who gradually transformed into Ivor in front of your eyes – and ears.
Ed Gaughan’s handling of many characters – including Ned Sherrin to the voices of John Peel, Paul McCartney and, more challengingly, radio presenter Andy Kershaw – delighted the crowd.
But as well as bringing laughter, celebrating Cutler’s one-off genius and playing out the pivotal incidents of his life, the production cleverly ensured you emotionally connected too.
Ivor’s bafflement as dementia set in and we also waited for a Paul McCartney who never arrived through the door was one of the show’s dark moments.
In contrast, lights suddenly twinkled magically across the stage and backdrop when Phyllis and Ivor – normally living “you in your space, me in mine” – were perfectly connected by the show in their own star-studded cosmos. Margaret Chrystall