Review — I’m With The Band

August 7, 2013 | By | Reply More

✭✭✭✩✩  Entertaining independence allegory

Declan Rodgers, Andy Clark, Matthew Bulgo and James Hillier in I'm With the Band at the Traverse Theatre. Image by Jeremy Abrahams

Declan Rodgers, Andy Clark, Matthew Bulgo and James Hillier in I’m With the Band. © Jeremy Abrahams

Traverse Theatre (Venue 15)
2-25 August
Review by Paul Johnson

The national stereotyping is not the subtlest in Tim Price’s allegorical examination of the question of Scottish independence.

It’s told from the perspective of an ageing indie band The Union, whose only hope of paying off their VAT bills is to record another album. But even that plan descends into disarray when the Scottish guitarist announces he’s had enough and is leaving.

The four band members are from the countries of the UK. One is overbearing and patronising, one has a drink problem, another an aggressive chip on his shoulder and the final one is sheepishly tagging along. No prizes for guessing which is which.

But can the Scot survive without the band? And can the band survive without the Scot?

Price, hot from winning the James Tait Black award for Drama for The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning, doesn’t just examine the effect of independence on Scotland. He is also very aware of the less explored question of the effect on the remaining three countries should Scotland go its own way.

This world premiere, a co-production between the Traverse and the Wales Millennium Centre, pairs Price with Traverse Associate Director, Hamish Pirie. It’s their first collaboration since their work on the Olivier-nominated, Salt, Root And Roe.

Laughs and nods of recognition

Pirie brings some nice directorial touches to Price’s witty and together script – producing both laughs and nods of recognition at the various allegorical connections. Where the device doesn’t work so well is in representing the back-story which has led to a separation being considered. Less aware theatregoers could easily surmise that the real life potential break-up is down to the financial crisis.

The production features 12 original songs. They serve the play well, contributing to the plot and the action, though none would ever be likely to feature on any indie chart show.

Buy the script:

As the band, James Hillier (Damien the Englishman), Declan Rodgers (Aaron the Northern Irishman), Andy Clark (Barry the Scotsman) and Matthew Bulgo (Gruff the Welshman), are well-matched and make for a convincing indie band of the kind you might linger a while to watch if they were playing in the pub.

Hillier is a talented multi-instrumentalist and each of the band members has at least one solo vocal, to varying degrees of success. And any less-than-perfect moments are covered by the idea that they are playing as a band that’s still rehearsing.

The script doesn’t call on them to bring too much characterisation beyond the stereotypes — particularly so with some of the cringe-inducing lines for Damien.

What doesn’t come together as successfully is the ending. The chaotic final song, Hell Is An English Garden, sees two of the cast shaking uncontrollably on the floor but just looks silly. The recovery scene that follows has the foursome playing cheap and simple instruments; suggesting The Union need to go back to basics and rebuild from scratch.

An entertaining play and worth catching, not least for the fun of working out the allegorical political references.

Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Age suitability: 14+
Run ends Sunday 25 August
Traverse Theatre, Cambridge Street, Edinburgh  EH1 2ED (Venue 15)
No performance Mondays. Times vary.
Tickets from: www.edfringe.com
Traverse website: www.traverse.co.uk

ENDS

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