Golden Arm Theatre Project is a collaboration between theatre company Blood of the Young and Edinburgh-based indie band Golden Arm. Promising a ‘gig like no other,’ the show is comprised of four short new plays, intermingled with live music from the band, a musical odyssey covering topics as disparate as fracking protests, cyber-stalking, streaking and fried chicken. The melding of form and genre is largely harmonious, theatre and song are woven together seamlessly, aided by the strong rapport between band and ensemble of three actors, who often take up instruments themselves.
The first of the four plays is Isobel McArthur’s ‘The Story of Chicken Girl.’ The eponymous Chicken Girl, played with charisma by Kim Allen, is a hapless employee of a fast food restaurant in a train station. The claustrophobia of a tube commute, the early morning haze of train announcements and bustling crowds are brought to life with startling precision by band and performers alike, sound scape and physicality transforming the Traverse’s intimate bar area into a variety of locations. The story follows Allen as she takes us through the ins and outs of a day’s work, overcoming obstacles such as a pilfering customer (Isobel McArthur), and a degrading boss (David James Kirkwood), until she ultimately rends her uniform in a gesture of defiance and quits her job. This first vignette sets the tone for the rest of the show, an often humorous, often wistful but always celebratory journey through the many facets of human experience.
‘Underground’ by Isabel Wright at first seems to continue in this whimsical, humorous vein. We are presented with a couple (McArthur and Kirkwood), recounting the story of their first meeting on the front lines of an anti-fracking demonstration. The dialogue is rhythmic and effervescent, we laugh along with them as they lead us through the initial fumblings of their relationship. But things soon become entangled and humour gives way to pain and loss. Perhaps one of the strongest pieces of the night, ‘Underground’ meditates on moral dilemmas in activism, the joy of belonging and the mystery of death in a way which left the audience tangibly moved. McArthur and Kirkwood shine as lovers pulled apart by lies and circumstance, and their final dialogue is arguably one of the most memorable moments of the show.
After hearing two more songs from Golden Arm, the poignant and arresting ‘No One Would Blame You’ and ‘Jesus Preserve Us’, we come to the third play of the night, Meghan Tyler’s ‘Cyberberg’, a take on how we interact in the age of social media, brought to life by Kim Allan and Isobel McArthur, who excel as a comic duo. Though undeniably enjoyable, this piece best exhibits one of the few noticeable faults with ‘Golden Arm Theatre Project’ as a whole: attempts at pinning down current issues such as consumerism and the fast food industry, fracking, and social media narcissism, that often fall flat. The intimate setting and emotional reliance on music means ‘Golden Arm’ is always stronger when it focuses on small moments of human vulnerability, whether humorous or tragic, rather than attempting to engage in debate about issues which cannot be given the weight they deserve in a script of around ten minutes.
The final play of the night, Clare Duffy’s ‘Barcelona’ is possibly the standout piece of the show, precisely because it does just that. David James Kirkwood plays a middle aged English teacher who finds a thrill in running stark naked through the empty streets of Barcelona on a summer night. The premise is superficially absurd but the story, told superbly by Kirkwood, is intensely intimate and human in a way not quite captured by the preceding plays of ‘Golden Arm.’ We are led through the warm, stone, Spanish landscapes and the life of the protagonist in a way which is simple, understated, but hugely effective and endearing, highlighting once again the company’s ability to blend the strange, the funny, and the sad to remarkable effect.
The show’s format is one of the show’s key successes: bite-sized chunks of theatre fitting perfectly between songs in a way which never feels obtrusive or jarring. These vignettes, however much they differ from each other, always seem part of some overarching narrative. By the end of the show, the players and band have both become characters in their own right. For example, between plays, as the band takes a break to re-tune, the internal monologues of the actors are played over the speakers in a way which highlights the inherent theatricality of live music. Overall, this collaboration is an excellent one, Golden Arm Theatre Project is a thoroughly pleasing piece of theatre, the cast brings to life a variety of roles with ease and the music from Golden Arm is at once catchy and profoundly tender, enchanting and truly involving the audience in a way which is rarely seen in theatre.
By Alice Bethany Markey
Alice Bethany Markey
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