Fever Dream

Douglas Maxwell's new play, Fever Dream: Southside, is set round the corner from the Citz in nearby Govanhill. During a distressingly hot summer, a local woman organises a rally to inject some community spirit into her neighbourhood, while her husband has a minor breakdown and the act she’s booked to perform has a spiritual breakdown of a more eccentric nature. And that’s not even half of the story lines in this frenetic, disjointed, beautiful piece of new writing.

Every single role is a crisply defined character part, and the cast really makes the most of it. Everyone in the play holds your attention, everyone sticks in the memory.

The play contains seven different complete stories – one for every character – and initially they’re all pulling in completely different directions. Amazingly, this isn’t confusing, but it is highly disjointed. The different stories aren’t even all in the same genre. There’s magical realism, comedy, drama, and even psychological thriller. Even the language changes from story to story, from the realistic speech of the activist to the high flown religious metaphors of the zealot.

And then suddenly, things start to come together. It’s like watching reason emerge from madness. The storylines converge, a shared mythology emerges, the genres and even the language start to blend – the naturalistic speech in one story is reused as metaphorical language in the next. It’s a structural masterpiece, and the coherence is all the more beautiful to witness because it's set against the chaos that came before.

This kind of storytelling allows for fantastic roles for the whole cast. Every single role is a crisply defined character part, and the cast really makes the most of it. Everyone in the play holds your attention, everyone sticks in the memory. Kirsty Stuart’s performance as Demi is impressively nuanced, so much more than the archetype of a liberal activist. Umar Malik is excellent as Kuldev, by turns sympathetic and suffused with understated menace.

One disappointing element is the gender ratio of the cast. This is a very politically aware play, and one distinctly rooted in 2015, but the ratio of women to men is slightly lower than you’d see in a play by Shakespeare. The two parts for women are both great, but in a cast of eight I’m left wondering where all the women of Govanhill have disappeared to.

In general, though, the politics of the play are just what they should be. Clearly present but with no desire to ram a message down our throats, and absolutely local. This is a play that has to be performed right here, right now. Glasgow suffuses every part of it, and it’s done with mature reflection and real pride. In a time of national political upheaval, the play brings things back to the local level, and real people.

Reviews by Grace Knight

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

High summer in Glasgow’s Southside and a heat wave bears down on the residents of Govanhill, driving them off the streets. Tensions are running high and fantasy and reality are becoming blurred.

Fighting to reclaim their neighbourhood, the lives of a sleep-deprived new parent and his civic-minded wife begin to unravel. Meanwhile an ambitious Hutchie boy, a pair of young missionaries, a performance artist and her alter ego and an unscrupulous property manager, are forced to confront their monsters.

Directed by Dominic Hill, Fever Dream: Southside is a surreal comic thriller and major new production by Glasgow-based writer Douglas Maxwell.