Revelations of Rab McVie

Feb 25 2023 | By More

★★★★☆     Fascinating

Traverse: Fri 24 – Sat 25 Feb 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

It is difficult to describe Revelations of Rab McVie – at the Traverse for two nights only – in a way that does this fascinating production justice. ‘Gig theatre’ too often suggests something either ramshackle or frighteningly ‘progressive’, while the piece’s own publicity, ‘an immersive journey through a psychedelic dreamscape’, also has unfortunate connotations.

Maria Rud (who is Edinburgh-based and part-Ukrainian, part-Russian) provides live art and a script performed by Tam Dean Burn. Musical accompaniment is by rock band The Filthy Tongues. The resulting collision is frequently unsettling, but always absorbing, and of considerable artistic merit and hard-won beauty.

Martin Metcalfe in Revelations Rab McVie. Pic: Pavlos Papageorgiou

The Filthy Tongues feature three members of 80s favourites Goodbye Mr Mackenzie – Derek Kelly, Fin Wilson and singer Martin Metcalfe (who is listed alongside Rud as the piece’s creative director).

Those who have not necessarily followed Metcalfe’s subsequent career too closely might be surprised to see that the floppy-haired indie kid cutting about town, seemingly on the cusp of stardom, has been replaced by a full-on preacher from a Western.

This commanding persona – all in black, with huge-brimmed hat, ankle-length coat and pointed beard – is entirely appropriate for the band’s doomy, swampy, somewhat Nick Cave-ish music.

ominous tone

There is no denying the ominous tone the songs create, although the warning at the door of ‘extremely loud music’ seems thoroughly unnecessary for anyone who has ever been to a gig. The volume level is undoubtedly on the high side for a theatre but is entirely appropriate; indeed, there have been several recent musicals at the Church Hill that have been considerably louder.

Maria Rud in Revelations Rab McVie. Pic: Pavlos Papageorgiou

The music provides a soundtrack to Rud’s artwork, created, blurred and painted over in real time directly on to a light box and projected behind the stage. This creates an effect evoking stained glass, with the pictures reminiscent of icons or a more angular Chagall.

While the artworks have an undoubted impact, their meaning is elusive. The same can be said for Rud’s words, which have a strange dreamlike tone. The story of Rab McVie is more parable than straightforward play, and more like a half-remembered nightmare than either.

Central to the atmosphere seems to be some of Edwin Morgan’s translations of the Russian Futurist poet Velimir Khlebnikov – one an apocalyptic scenario punctuated by dog howls, the other a parade of notable onomatopoeic neologisms.

strikingly unfettered

Of course, Tam Dean Burn has considerable experience of performing such poetry; he has similarly been embodying such characters as this, strikingly unfettered both vocally and physically, as far back as his Renfield in the original of Liz Lochhead’s Dracula. This is a remarkable performance, and it is difficult to imagine anyone else having the visceral energy to stand up to the force of the artwork.

Burn’s first appearance – in silhouette against a painting – is particularly effective, and testament to the lighting work of Pete Searle. Derek Kelly’s sound design is also strong, and achieves considerable clarity where there could easily be confusion.

Revelations of Rab McVie post-show set, with artwork by Maria Rud created live during the show. Pic Claire Hutchins

The production as a whole, however, is clearly not meant to be clear-cut. Although dedicated to ‘the torn world’, it does not address the ongoing war in Ukraine directly, but does certainly hint at themes of invasion, war and death.

Director Maria Pattinson has a thankless task knitting together the various strands onstage, and it is to her credit that the end result is so cohesive, while never being artificially neat.

There are times that are less satisfactory; the music and art do not always complement each other, and there is the odd hesitant moment. The music occasionally tends to dominate, although the most traditional rock ‘n roll facet of the first night was the late start (something thoroughly understandable owing to the production’s technical demands).

The overall effect, however, is forceful and emotive. There are no easy answers or pat emotional responses here, but it is much more accessible than any description could make it sound, and well worth anyone’s time.

Running time: One hour and 15 minutes (no interval)
Traverse, 10 Cambridge St, EH1 2ED
Friday 24 – Saturday 25 February 2023
Evenings at 7.30 pm
Tickets and information: Book here.


Maria Rud Website:
Twitter: @MariaRudArt
Facebook: @maria.rud.9
Instagram: @mariarud_art

Filthy Tongues:
Twitter: @filthytongues
Facebook: @TheFilthyTongues
Instagram: @hefilthytongues

Tam Dean Burn as Rab McVie in Revelations Rab McVie. Pic: Pavlos Papageorgiou


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