This Is Memorial Device

Aug 17 2022 | By More

★★★★☆     Phantasmagoric realism

Wee Red Bar: Sat 13 – Mon 29 Aug 2022
Review by Hugh Simpson

The Lyceum’s extraordinary run of success at this year’s festivals continues with This Is Memorial Device, their collaboration with the Book Festival.

David Keenan’s 2017 book about the (fictional) Airdrie post-punk scene, and in particular, the mighty Memorial Device, has become a bona fide cult. Its hallucinatory evocation of music, memory, loss, forgetting and remembering has struck a chord with many who were ever young, existed for music and lived life just a little too fully for the good of their health.

Paul Higgins with one of the mannequins in This Is Memorial Device. Pic Lyceum.

Adapter-director Graham Eatough has created a stage version that is at once intimate and expansive, true to the source while having its own definite identity.

The setting of the Art College’s Wee Red Bar, host to countless gigs by up-and-comers, never-weres and did-they-really-existers, is perfect. Paul Higgins brilliantly plays Ross Raymond, chronicler of Memorial Device, inviting us all into his reminiscences.

There is no fourth wall here, with Higgins in touching distance and regarding us as fellow acolytes of the band, here to remember them. With the aid of video and sound, he tells the story.

Putting the story of ‘the best band you never heard of’ on stage has an obvious disadvantage compared to the book. Either you don’t hear the music (which would make no sense) or you do. And ‘if it doesn’t sound like a building coming down, then forget it’, as Memorial device’s Big Patty puts it.

doomy thrumming

Stephen McRobbie (aka Stephen Pastel) and sound designer Gavin Thomson provide the music, but it is nothing like The Pastels. Instead, there is plenty of doomy thrumming, and a closing piece that sounds like Mogwai crossed with Bryter Layter-vintage Nick Drake.

The band themselves are cleverly represented by deconstructed mannequins, who are very at home on Anna Orton’s junk shop-chic set.

As always with a beloved book, many will feel the loss of important characters and events, but much of the narrative is faithfully represented, with filmed and audio performances from Julie Wilson Nimmo, Martin Quinn, Sanjeev Kohli, Mary Gapinski and Gabriel Quigley.

These excerpts give the air of realism, but it is when (just as the book does) the production starts to approach a more dream-like state that it is strongest.

There are some performers who can go beyond just embodying a character and appear to be channelling some far-off truth, giving voice to a story from just beyond our understanding. Higgins is one of those actors, and he seems constantly to be grasping at some half-remembered recollection of something that may never have happened.

At times, the combination of his performance, the sound, the lighting of Nigel Edwards, Martin Clark’s outstanding video design and the movement direction of Kally Lloyd-Jones reach a liminal state between documentary and hallucination that is exceptionally effective.

This may not be for everyone, but it is not just for anyone who has ever run a fanzine that never really made it past the conceptual stage. It is also for all those who have youthfully loved not wisely but too well, whether a band, a person or a place.

But mostly it’s for anyone who believes that art can inspire, unite and transcend.

Running time 1 hour 20 minutes (no interval)
Wee Red Bar, Edinburgh College of Art,74 Lauriston Place, EH3 9DF (Book Festival venue)
Saturday 13 – Monday 29 August 2022
Daily (not Wed): 8.30pm
Information and tickets: book here.

Book Festival website:
Royal Lyceum website:

Memorial Device on Twitter: @memorialdevice


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