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Festival Review: Anything That Gives Off Light ***

Michael Cox reviews a production with a lot of creative ideas but a messy script.

Have you ever used a sat nav in order to find the quickest route to a destination, only to be taken on a much longer twisty road that ends not quite where you expected? Well, those looking for a theatrical equivalent need look no further.

What does it mean to be Scottish? A fair question, and a good jumping off point for Anything That Gives Off Light. Brian Ferguson (playing a character named, funnily enough, Brian Ferguson) intellectually wrestles the question with pal Iain (Sandy Grierson, though Martin Donaghy takes over August 23) before being joined in conversation by American tourist Red (Jessica Almasy). Deciding to look for the answer, the three embark on a Scottish road trip.

All of this is fine, in a sharp-looking production filled with good humour and some great musical performances. But then it decides it wants to grow in ambition, with Brian, Iain and Red acting out moments of political oppression: Brian and Iain dramatically enact the Highland Clearances while Red looks at strip mining in the American South.

Is it plausible these characters would perform acting skits in fields to teach each other history lessons? Not really, but if you go with it, the production is entertaining enough…but only just. All of the performers (three actors and three musicians) are fun to watch; they are, perhaps, having much more fun at times than the audience.

And the script is a mess. It feels more like an ideas board brought to theatrical life: there are concepts and thoughts galore, but very few are developed into anything tangible. Is it unpolished because the full company contributed or because no unifying concept could be agreed upon?

So, going back to our sat nav metaphor: if you're in the mood for a wandering production with good company and no clear through line, you'll be fine; those searching for any dramaturgical hook or plausibility will need to strap themselves in for one hell of a bumpy ride.

Anything That Gives Off Life is part of the Edinburgh International Festival and performs at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre until August 26.

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