Nan Shepherd: At the Machine Howling
Edinburgh Traverse Theatre
The Living Peak, one of the byproducts of the belated recognition of the groundbreaking poetic memoir of Nan Shepherd, has resulted in the image of the Aberdeen-born author being immortalized on a five-pound Scottish note. A similarly offbeat homage is what the journalist Erland Clouston calls his animated lecture. He draws on his own Shepherd experiences and blends them with a wildly dramatic collage in which as actual historical figures a selection of plants from the audience leap onto the stage.
In this presentation under the Dynamite Club banner, Clouston, speaking from the lectern as if in a sermon, puts his study of Shepherd at the core of the twentieth century that created her. That shaped the twentieth century. Whether to describe the chaos of war or for thirty years to conceal her unpublished The Living Mountain manuscript.
Clouston uses a kaleidoscope of projections from his address book alongside representations of Walter Benjamin and Sigmund Freud, portrayed by a diverse group of actors. Clouston portrays his subject as a kind of zenned-out pre-beat hippie with a playful Su Clark as Nan on stage almost the entire time. That places her job, with a few robot dances and an additional Bjork added for good measure, in the anti-establishment tradition of Lewis Carroll, Allen Ginsberg and Jefferson Airplane.
The following trip is rooted in a very British take on performance art of the 1960s that is both wacky cabaret and part of an ongoing effort to owe it to a big artist. Although Clouston and his circus of performers educate and entertain, there are moments when one wants Clark to capture the spotlight, beyond the recorded contributions of Karine Polwart, Gerda Stevenson, and Tilda Swinton, so we can hear more of Shepherd in her own words. The cavalcade of energy and creativity streaming from the creation of Clouston, however, is worth a fiver – and then some.