Review – Fever Dream: Southside at Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

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First published in The Times, Tuesday April 28 2015

Two stars

It takes a long time to adjust to the bizarre universe of Douglas Maxwell’s new comedy. The action ostensibly takes place in the Govanhill area of Glasgow during a sweltering heat wave but the off-centre atmosphere created in Dominic Hill’s production is more akin to Twin Peaks than River City.

Like David Lynch’s cult serial drama, the plot of Maxwell’s play is of secondary importance to its cast of quirky characters. The wantonly offbeat tone is established in the opening scene when we meet a pair of identically dressed American missionary boys (Martin Donaghy and Scott Reid), both named Joe, who are hell-bent on ridding the streets of monsters. The neighbourhood is also home to a ruthless property developer (Dharmesh Patel), determined to drive a pair of sleep-deprived parents (Martin McCormick and Kirsty Stuart) from their woefully under-priced flat.

Martin Donaghy and Charlene Boyd in Fever Dream Southside. Photo by Tim Morozzo

Pic: Tim Morozzo

As Maxwell takes his time introducing his dramatis personae and contriving to bring them together, the first half of the show, while frequently amusing, feels disjointed and, though Hill does a fine job of marshalling his large cast, too dizzying in its pace. While the production includes some compelling individual characterisations, notably McCormick’s neurotic stay-at-home father and Donaghy’s mentally disturbed youth, too often Maxwell resorts to the grotesque, with Charlene Boyd’s pretentious performance artist and Patel’s wide-boy entrepreneur particular cases in point. The play’s various strands do come together in a reasonably satisfying way in the second half, even if Maxwell’s central idea about the importance of community as a means of alleviating personal neuroses seems a little inconsequential.

The mix of realism and fantasy in the script, with real-life Southside landmarks such as Queen’s Park, the New Victoria Infirmary and the Govanhill Baths plagued by supernatural beasts and disembodied voices, does result in some enjoyable set pieces, though, enhanced by Lizzie Powell’s atmospheric lighting designs. Perhaps the most entertaining and well-conceived character of all is a pterodactyl named Terry, created by the puppet designer Gavin Glover, who speaks in a mix of Glasgow vernacular and rhyming couplets and haunts the dreams and nightmares of Maxwell’s human characters.

Terry’s scenes aside, however, Maxwell’s script is only patchily engaging, and though the playwright is to be commended for his attempt to explore a city’s dark underbelly, in the end one can’t help feeling that this overlong piece would have benefited from a few cuts and some structural adjustments.

Box office: 0141 429 0022, to May 9

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