Fleeto [FringeTIX]
Tumult in the Clouds @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio
2:00pm, Wed 22 Feb 2012
The opening lines of Fleeto mention “Wee Andy” about half-a-dozen times; even with ears struggling to adapt to the thick Glaswegian accent, it’s still plain that young Mackie is angry and scared that his friend has fallen to a knife attack – a Glasgow Smile – and is struggling to deal with the ramifications of the attack. But the repeated use of “Wee Andy” initially has me thinking I’m in the wrong performance, that the Tumult cast have lead with the wrong piece… but as soon as the Mackie meets Kenzie, who lets out a roar of a rallying war cry – “Fleeeeetooooo!” – my doubts are cast aside.
Fleeto tracks the frantic unravelling of Mackie’s life in the hours after the attack on Wee Andy. Swept up in a hastily organised street gang of under the vicious Kenzie’s leadership, the group go looking for blood; Kenzie, keen to get another soldier in his battalion, presses a knife into Mackie’s hand and orchestrates the attack on a pair of innocents. One is severely beaten; the other unwittingly slain by Mackie’s hand.
Mackie, horrified by what he’s done, goes on the run – hiding in areas more derelict than his own downtrodden welfare estate. At the same time, we’re witness to the grief of his victim’s mother; the Police Officer, who’d been a constant source of narration and explanation throughout the early stages of the performance, comes into his own as he breaks the news to her, guiding her through the identification process. Mackie and Kenzie violently reunite, and then there’s an intense scene between Mackie and his victim’s mother, who remained unaware of who she was talking to; she sees Mackie as a victim himself. The denouement, using the symbolic MacGuffin of the victim’s journal, leaves us feeling helpless… hopeless.
Fleeto is a brutal affair: the language, through native Glaswegian accents, is constantly coarse, with the highest C-Word Quotient of any performance I’ve ever seen. But it never feels opportunistic or gratuitous; more a reflection of the reality of the environment the gangs find themselves in. The accent itself feels a little played up at the beginning of the piece: as Mackie (brilliantly played by Jordan McCurrach) reveals his shock at the attack on Wee Andy, the Police Officer – a weary and perfectly pitched Andy Clark – passively describes the “official” facts of the case… it almost feels like a translation lesson for those new to the accent. When Neil Lieper’s thoroughly evil Kenzie lets out his war cry, the rest of the “gang” (which included a cluster of local actors) yell and scream as they rush forth from the audience – a fantastic touch.
The presentation of the piece is a triumph: despite the violence described in the dialogue, the physical reenactments are abstract… Mackie and Kenzie remain on opposite sides of the stage during their savage brawl. In fact, there’s precious little that can be faulted with Fleeto – the only possible exception being that I initially thought that the final scene between Mackie and the victim’s mother (the wonderfully restrained Pauline Knowles) was dragging a bit… but by the time I’d left The Studio, I’d completely forgotten about that.
In short, Fleeto is magnificent. It’s a no-holds-barred criticism of the cost – and responsibility – of society on the underclass, and a bitter demonstration of how death – unfortunately – begets death. Whilst the language may be strong, and the implied violence brutal, so is the message.
After the show, writer Paddy Cunneen and Neil Lieper hosted a short Q&A session, ostensibly to allow the media to ask questions about Fleeto‘s sister show, Wee Andy. Cunneen peppered the short session with all sorts of information – local police in Glasgow are trying to get some violent crimes recategorised as a mental health issue, for example, citing that the perpetrators have often not had a stable upbringing. He also comments on insurance – money happily outlaid by the middle classes to protect their physical goods – in comparison to the reluctance for social welfare – taxes going on building stable social structures. Cunneen also indicated that he wanted to credit the audience’s sense of imagination in abstracting the violent aspects of the plays; doing so also allayed the risk of sensationalising the violence. But, most insightful of all, he described the gang’s revenge for the attack on Wee Andy as being a perverse form of care – the gang demonstrating to one of their own that someone is, indeed, looking out for them… as opposed to the fragile family structures that most of them possess.
An addendum: I write this a week after having seen the show; in the meantime, I’ve also seen Wee Andy, and had a long chat with Holden Street staff as to which order the shows should be seen in. My opinion, as crude and unlearned as it may be, is that Fleeto should be seen first.