Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
The word ‘psychedelic’ is often misapplied to theatrical ventures but, in the case of Revelations of Rab McVie, I think it’s entirely appropriate. This challenging piece of gig theatre is mind-bending in the best sense of the word: an exhilarating collaboration between a group of musicians, a visual artist and an actor – which succeeds on just about every level.
The performance begins…
To my left, there’s the Scottish three-piece, The Filthy Tongues, augmented in this case by two other musicians. As vocalist Martin Metcalfe, decked out like some surreal preacher, unleashes a series of memorable songs about darkness and decay, he’s anchored by the metronomic rhythms of drummer Derek Kelly and bass player Fin Wilson. The results have me hooked from the first chords of the opening song, The Ghost of Rab McVie. Alex Shedlock adds extra guitar and keyboards to the mix, while Asim Rasool takes care of a whole range of percussion.
To my right, artist Maria Rud works on a sheet of horizontal glass, smearing paint with brushes and sponges (but mostly with her bare hands). Her endeavours are projected onto a huge backdrop and they are mesmerising. From an initial sludge of colour, she is able to conjure vivid landscapes, bizarre animals, cloaked figures and even an enigmatic portrait of a mysterious figure, gazing benignly down at the audience. Lit from behind, her translucent creations are like surreal stained-glass windows, and what’s also interesting is the way she interacts with the music, at times almost appearing to conduct it with her paint-splashed hands. Each successive image is washed away, like a sand castle extinguished by a rising tide, only to be replaced by something new and equally intriguing
And now, centre stage, a silhouette rises from one of the paintings and stumbles out of it. It’s Rab McVie himself, as portrayed by actor Tam Dean Burn, a grotesque leering presence, transported by visions that only he can see. From time to time, he proclaims a string of half-intelligible observations, including a detailed description of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. He tears off his clothes. He picks up a megaphone and bellows at us.
This eclectic mix of performers is directed with aplomb by Maria Pattinson. If I were to claim to understand everything that’s going on here, I’d be lying. Suffice to say that I am swept up in the piece, riveted by what’s happening onstage, my gaze moving back and forth as I try to take in every detail. I later read that the piece started life as an essay by Rud, written shortly before the invasion of Ukraine, which may account for the disturbing ‘end of days’ vibe that dominates the production. Whatever its roots, this has blossomed into something unique and spectacular.