Review: Dada, Surrealism, Bowie, and Pop: The Puzzle of Avant-Garde at The Scottish Arts Club

This silly, well-intentioned show by the Mighty Fine Theatre group toys with many brilliant ideas. Despite the cast’s enthusiasm, however, it doesn’t get much fun out them. Inhibited by a short attention span – or perhaps a lack of interest – their explications of Bowie, Gaga, Breton, Jarry, Dali, Warhol, and Barry Humphries sadly never seem to go anywhere or say anything. 

It goes like this. A man called Professor clad in tartan trousers and a beret announces that the avant-garde is accepting new members. A fitting premise in the rakish Scottish Arts Club; a members’ club that can safely boast of the comfiest seating of any venue in the Fringe, with its tatty, sumptuous leather chairs. Prof asks for nominations. Two younger actors in the audience are manic to put themselves forward. 

First, a woman in a Warhol wig and gold sequin dress bounces up. She’s called Minted and nominates Lady Gaga for the avant-garde. She gives a jittery explanation then sings Born This Way, well. Then a boy with a colourful shirt and dyed red hair called Kidology nominates Bowie. He sings less well, but from him, we learn some interesting facts; Bowie screened Dali’s film Un Chien Andalou the ‘support act’ on his 1976 Isolar tour, for example. 

More specifics would be welcome. Instead we’re treated to generalisations like “Breton said we should move beyond time and space! Bowie sang about a spaceman!”  Details are not their strong suit: the professor claims Jarry’s Ubu Roi debuted in 1986 (not 1896), and Minted refers to Rachel Howard as Tracy Howard. This descends into a wobbly melee of tributes to surrealism: They ring little bells, fall asleep, play with spoons, etc. 

Dali’s “paranoiac-critical” method of linking things which are not rationally linked is cited. A good idea, but to make it work you need things to link – not just name-checked notions. Let’s hope the Mighty Fine Theatre group will develop what they’ve started here into something more accomplished in the future. 

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