Paul Bright’s Confessions Of A Justified Sinner

Aug 21 2015 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩    Justified and modern

The Queen’s Hall: Wed 18 – Sat 22 Aug 2015

The International Festival’s production of Paul Bright’s Confessions Of A Justified Sinner is a hugely enjoyable meditation on truth, reality, literature, loss and the transitory yet enduring nature of artistic creation.

This is a speedy revival of Untitled Projects’ recent production. At its heart is the diligently researched story of the controversial cult director Paul Bright’s 1980s stagings of James Hogg’s celebrated novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of A Justified Sinner – most notable for the 1989 Festival production that lasted nine hours without an interval.

George Anton. Photo: Alex Aitchison

George Anton. Photo: Alex Aitchison

George Anton, who was party to these events, presents the story as a combination of performance, lecture and multimedia show, with accompanying exhibition.

Some suspicious souls have suggested that their own failing memories of these events and their lack of online presence may have explanations other than the vagaries of fashion. The word ‘hoax’ has been bandied about, but as the performance insists, acting is all about telling lies and actors cannot be trusted.

What, after all is a ‘hoax’? Shakespeare knew perfectly well the portrayal of Richard III he put on stage owed nothing to historical truth – does that make him a hoaxer?

At a key moment in the performance, the name of Ossian is importantly invoked. James Macpherson is apparently forever damned for putting out fragments of collected items linked with his own work, when it seems clear that Burns was wont on occasion to use a similar technique for his poetry. Burns, who claimed authorship, is a genius; Macpherson, who did not, is a charlatan.

riveting and affecting

Such elusive matters and tricksy techniques are entirely apt for the original and magnificent Justified Sinner, which after all employs an unreliable narrator and the framing device of an editor’s narrative that calls everything from the story’s reliability to its true authorship into question.

The most important thing to consider is whether it works – and it undoubtedly does. Anton’s performance is riveting and affecting, although the ‘lecture’ element of it, like the accompanying exhibition, seems a little dwarfed by the huge surroundings of the Queen’s Hall. Those taking part in the reconstructions, which include interviews with Scottish theatre luminaries of the 80s such as Communicado’s Alison Peebles and the Citizens’ Giles Havergal, should also be mentioned, with Owen Whitelaw particularly impressive.

Director Stewart Laing and collaborators Pamela Carter, Robbie Thomson and Jack Wrigley deserve huge praise for so accomplished a production, carefully considered in its conception and cleverly executed.

There is a feeling throughout the performance of the ground constantly shifting under your feet, which is intriguing and puts the whole nature of theatrical reality in question. If it all sounds forbiddingly dense, it must be stressed that it is thoroughly involving, surprisingly funny and not a little moving.

Recent reports have suggested that Untitled Projects’ reward for creating such a highly impressive piece, deservedly picked up by the International Festival, was to lose their funding from Creative Scotland. Surely that has to be the biggest, cruellest and most unbelievable hoax of all?

Running time 2 hours (no interval)
The Queen’s Hall, 85-89 Clerk St, EH8 9JG
Wednesday 18 – Saturday 22 August 2015
Daily at 8.00 pm
Part of the Edinburgh International Festival
Remainder of run sold out
More details at


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