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Review: Theatre

Grit:

The Martyn Bennett Story

Tramway, Glasgow

Neil Cooper

Anyone who ever witnessed the full live experience of dread-locked piper extraordinaire Martyn Bennett at the height of his 1990s pomp will know only too well how powerful his fusion of ceilidh and club cultures could be. Bennett's tragic death of cancer in 2005, aged 33, robbed the world of a composer and musician bursting with talent and a lust for life that can't help but cause one to wonder how his work might have developed.

Much of Bennett's passion is captured in this new dramatic homage, conceived and directed by Cora Bissett, who also collaborates on Kieran Hurley's script for a co-production between Bissett's Pachamama Productions, Tramway and the Mull-based Comar organisation. As with the show's inspiration, Bissett mixes and matches forms with abandon.

Opening speeches to the audience find actors Sandy Grierson, Hannah Donaldson and Gerda Stevenson, respectively playing Bennett, Bennett's wife Kirsten, and his mother, folk singer Margaret Bennett.

We are then burled through the sketch-book naturalism of Bennett's early years before things let rip with a series of impressionistic contemporary dance moves and aerial displays choreographed by Dana Gingras, all set to a backdrop of archive film footage and Gaelic language projections.

With the principal cast and dancers ably supported by a large youth ensemble, this is undoubtedly impressive, even if early parts of the script shoe-horn in a tad too much polemic.

When we move into Bennett's final years, however, it is heart-rending to watch Grierson replicate Bennett's demise. The emotional power of Bennett's story can't be over-stated, especially when illustrated by such high-octane set-pieces accompanied by Bennett's own music.

Like its creator, that music remains a force of nature.

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