Honesty is always a good start, so let me admit now, I’m a massive Belle and Sebastian fan. And if you’re the same, you will instantly realise the connection, because If You’re Feeling Sinister is the title of their first album (ok ok I know, there was a previous album, but that’s a whole level of geekiness fandom that I won’t go into here). So, this was a play I was desperate to enjoy. And again, for utmost honesty, I seriously did, but not just because of the musical connection.
In theory, the use of the music is where the connection between band and play ends. Except it really isn’t that simple. Because like every great Belle and Sebastian song, when you scratch beneath the surface, you find numerous new layers to explore, hidden depths that will draw you back again and again to rediscover it afresh.
Boss and Kid (Alan McHugh and Sarah Swire) the play’s two protagonists, share a strange relationship, one that is already fully developed as the play starts. They are lovers, the stereotypical lecturer and student love affair; Boss is married, over 50, stable job, about to have his first book published, but clearly bored of how settled his life is. Enter Kid, a bundle of energy, in one breath looking for excitement, but at the same time some form of stability and meaning. And somewhere along the way, they have decided to steal a famous painting from the city’s gallery; well actually as the play starts, they have just carried out the heist. What follows is a glimpse into the decline of the doomed relationship as both realise it is never going to last, all played out against the backdrop of fleeting moments of music, yes, the aforementioned tracks from If You’re Feeling Sinister, both sung and at times even played on guitar by our two lovers.
So, what makes this such a beautiful piece of theatre, besides the fact it honours what many consider an iconic Scottish album? Well, Sarah Swire is just wonderful, a bundle of energy that fully encompasses Kid. As we watch her decline into despair as she realises Boss isn’t going to be the love of her life, just a passing thing, she puts every ounce of her soul into it. And in doing so, she also brings alive the musical interludes, breaking into song, snippets of the album tracks, but snippets that add more depth to her, their relationship, her inner turmoil. At times it really feels as if the lyrics were created for this play, and not taken from an album made over twenty years ago.
This is no more true than when, in a glut of self-despair, she stands atop a chair, belting out the refrain from the album’s title track;
“the only things she wants to know is
How and why and when and where to go
How and why and when and where to follow”
It’s a moment of pure beauty in a play full of such moments. It’s a play that, much like the album, I want to watch and listen to again, because like all good songs, there are without doubt layers I have not even touched upon just yet.
Written by: Eve Nicol
Music by: Stuart Murdoch/ Belle and Sebastian
Directed by: Paul Brotherston
Produced by: BBC Arts and Avalon in association with Tron Theatre
Booking link: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/if-you-re-feeling-sinister-a-play-with-songs
Playing until: 26 August 2019