Spend a Penny, The Arches, Glasgow

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Certainly the most attention-grabbing entrant on the schedule of the well-respected Arches Live! mini-festival of theatre, the very nature of Spend a Penny may result in accusations of gimmickry and exclusivity. Probably these will come from people who haven’t actually seen the show, because to see it is to marvel at the ambition and ingenuity it displays.

It is set in the theatre and arts space’s public toilets – two separate performances of four different monologues, eight in total, in both the ladies’ and gents’ bathrooms – so there will be many who don’t get the chance to witness Spend a Penny. Audiences are limited to four at a time, with each of the five-minute monologues delivered one-to-one as the viewers are shuttled deftly around the stalls and wash basin areas by theatre staff.

Conceived and directed with verve and imagination by Andy Arnold, the Arches’ long-standing creative director, the writing talent contributing to the piece is of a very high standard, with four established Scots writers and four talented new playwrights delivering smart site-specific sketches.

Not all of the pieces qualify as an unmitigated success, but each capably holds its own as an enthralling and engaging interactive experiment, in large part due to the fact that the performers as forced as close as they can into their lone viewer’s personal space. Among the more memorable episodes, the ones which still ring in your ears and senses as you leave the building, include Liz Lochead’s ‘Not Changed’, an involving and mournful tale of a put-upon transsexual – performed with endearing earthiness by Grant Smeaton – which concludes in a beamingly hopeful coda.

James Kelman’s “Man to Man” is also a highlight, as you are confronted over the taps in the gents by a rough bloke who decries the lack of sensitivity displayed by the modern working class man. As befits Kelman’s work, it’s very Scottish. Lynsey Murdoch’s ‘Good Karma’ and Frank Deasy’s “Kylie’s Eggs” are also poignant, the former involving a direct address in the cleaning cupboard from a rather macabre Grim Reaper, the latter a speech by a young cancer sufferer who only once, in a heart-stopping moment, catches your eye and seems to beg for your understanding. ★★★★☆

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