Venue: Underbelly, Cowgate
‘Two men shelter in a soup kitchen on a bitter Scottish evening. As the darkness looms, they face up to a past they cannot escape. In this gripping new work, Glasgow-based Vocal Point (Splintered, The Brains of the Family) present powerful true stories uncovered through conversations with regulars at the Glasgow City Mission soup kitchen. Using technologies in its visual storytelling, Bloom reinstates the tales of two fascinating individuals and their plight.’
It’s a habit of some shows to tell true and tragic stories in a good way. A handsome cast and pleasant sets can almost make an audience forget a story is based on something as gritty as real life.
Bloom bucks the trend. Consisting of two stories acted by Robert Scobie and Abraham Parker, they draw on their own experiences working at the coalface of a soup kitchen in Glasgow. In this performance, they re-enact two stories they were told by attendees whom they’ve not seen since.
The stories – one about a drug-user who descends from a life of some means and the other whose family situation leads him on a distinctly solemn path – are intertwined by the actors. Both Scobie and Abraham are endearing and gregarious, working in perfect tandem to explain the arrangement, giving background and context to what they are about to act out.
Using a mixture of sound and visuals, they tell both stories with empathy and a haunting resonance. Two televisions, locked in unison, oscillate between inferring scenes to establish the scene. Accompanying audio combines with this to create a beautiful set.
The overriding strength of the play is the simpatico between Scobie and Parker. They are balletic, using space and movement to great effect, giving sincere gravitas and emotion to what they’re telling. Both do well in their bid to imbue the most anonymous of people with a sense of humanity. They take time and care to establish the task.
A problem perhaps is that there is no real punchline. Both stories come to an end in different ways and one is left feeling that experiments with out-of-sync flashbacks could be expanded into more characters and more stories.
Ultimately Bloom is commendable and ambitious. Its success comes from deferring all attention onto the stories that both actors tell innovatively, but there is room for expansion of the televisual innovation. While televisions are used to splendid effect, it might be an even more engrossing experiment in storytelling if more of them encircled the audience to expand the scope of atmospheric breadth created on this occasion.
To cynics or those jaded at a hotly political time in Scotland be assured there is no agenda to be found here. Stories that are worth telling should be told and both Scobie and Parker tell them well.