Gilgamesh by Edwin Morgan

Posted by Super Administrator on Thursday 11 November 2010

gilgameshGilgamesh, according to some sources, reigned as king of Uruk for 126 years. The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the oldest pieces of literature in known existence, and is no stranger to theatrical interpretation. Edwin Morgan, the late Scottish Makar and Poet Laureate of Glasgow, is one of the many figures who have adapted this 4,000-year old Sumerian tale.

Despite being published in 2006, this is the first time that Morgan’s play has been performed – albeit not in its entirety; the performance ends rather abruptly at the end of the penultimate fourth act. Perhaps, however, that is somewhat fitting given that scraps of the ever-evolving Gilgamesh legend are still being discovered in ancient sites throughout the Middle East.

Nine of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama’s (RSAMD) talented final-year acting students, and a dozen or so music students from the Scottish music and jazz courses brought the play, directed by Tam Dean Burns, to the New Athenaeum stage in a production as interesting and epic as the story befits.

Morgan’s verses are often very funny and delivered with great panache by the actors; special mention must go to the liberally interpreted Glaswegian jester, Rebecca Benson, whose dead-panned patter certainly won over the audience. Sam Spanjian, the protagonist, and Andrew Rothney, who played his adopted confidante, gave superb performances of great vitality and intensity – especially during the demanding fourth act. The multiple personalities of Robert Elkin and Drew Marquardt were well-executed and humorous.

Parts of the production however, did fully materialise. The Brechtian songs that interjected intermittently often worked, but one or two, along with the direction crossed over into a world of pantomime, that didn’t quite resonate in context. Occasionally the music accompanying the drama, commendably composed by the students themselves, jarred a little, again sometimes crossing over into pantomime territory during scene changes – my brain half expected Elaine C. Smith (superb though she is), in a fairy costume to enter stage right rather than an ancient demigod. For the most part, however, the fusion of traditional and jazz music work well, producing some very interesting and absorbing textures.

Overall, the four-fifths-premiere of Edwin’s epic, with its effective design and lighting, was a vibrant, funny and often heart-wrenching event, demonstrating both the aspirations and frailties of human nature through this mythical king’s story.

JM

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