Acting is lying and getting away with it. This is what the audience is explicitly told by George Anton, the self confessed ‘compelling’, ‘persuasive’, ‘uber liar’, during The Summerhall and Untitled Projects incredible reconstruction of ‘Paul Bright’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner’ . This declaration, despite dwelling on counterfeit, is almost the only thing made explicit – the rest of the work deals in unreliability, experimentation and faded memories. It is a piece of theatre that blurs the lines of documentary, art, fiction, memoir and adaptation. It is a theatrical game changer, and it is utterly enthralling.
The performance hinges on two narratives. The first is one that is carved into Scotland’s literary identity – James Hoggs’ novel of demonic temptation, madness and murder. The second is an apparently forgotten section of Scotland’s past – the story of director Paul Bright and his attempt to adapt Hogg’s narrative in a radical, original way. George Anton, Bright’s 1980s luminary, who played Hogg’s disturbed religious fanatic Robert Wringham in the original Confessions, weaves his way through Paul Bright’s theatrical vision, illuminating their own troubled relationship and Bright’s grand visions of acting, art and life. This was apparently a man who shouted Antonin Artaud quotes sporadically through rehearsals, imitating the playwright who created the Theatre of Cruelty and aimed to drive men mad. Bright by all accounts came close to this point – in an interview projected large on the stage backdrop one of Bright’s past cast members describes her experience with him as akin to “being torn apart by pitbulls and left on a fence to bleed.”
So it is appropriate that the viewer – or participant, as the basement exhibition that precedes the performance, archive footage and George Anton’s intense candour draw all involved seemingly behind the scenes before the tale has even unfolded – is left feeling dazed and hung out. For this is inspired by radical theatre, by risk taking, by uncertainty. It is intriguing, involving and, if the impressions left after the lights come up are correct, an epic feat of theatre. Hogg’s eighteenth century themes of confusion, doubling and doubt are incredibly enacted, through a prism that warps and distorts. It is difficult to describe; it resists definition. In this reconstruction Untitled Projects have constructed something truly unique. Head-spinning, haunting, mesmerising – this is a work that cannot be forgotten.