Review: Paul Bright’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner – Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh International Festival

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First published in The Times, Friday August 21 2015

Four Stars

James Hogg’s 1824 novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner is a key text of the Scottish literary canon: its fingerprints can be seen on everything from Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde to the performance videos of Douglas Gordon. Yet this co-production from Stewart Laing’s Untitled Projects in association with the National Theatre of Scotland and Tramway is no reverent adaptation. This, after all, is the director and company that brought us the immersive The Salon Project and a version of Genet’s The Maids that cast young men in the leads and featured a question-and-answer session with the director midway through act two.

Hogg’s novel is just one facet of an intricate Chinese box of a show, delivered as a stand-up lecture by the actor George Anton. He recounts the story of his friend, Paul Bright, a brilliant, pugnacious artist, who, he claims, came of age at the moment of Glasgow’s cultural regeneration in the late Eighties. This angry young man dreamt, we are told, of staging an epic version of Justified Sinner, experimenting with forms ranging from the promenade performance to the outdoor rave. Yet before he could complete the sixth and final instalment of his masterpiece, Paul disappeared.

Laing’s production, scripted by Pamela Carter, is in part a retranslation of Hogg’s themes of duality, transgression and the subjective nature of truth. Anton’s presentation is lent an air of authenticity by the impressive volume of grainy footage, photographs and paraphernalia that surround the show. Even those familiar with that seminal period in Scotland’s theatre history will find themselves questioning what is real and what made up.

In the end, the veracity or otherwise of Anton’s story is neither here nor there. It is the energy, inventiveness and lyricism of the storytelling that makes Laing’s celebration of restless creativity so utterly persuasive.

Box office: 0131 473 2000, to Aug 22

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