I Look: I Divine
  • By Kat Pope
  • |
  • 22nd May 2013
  • |
  • ★★★

Interweaving three separate but related stories, Mark Kydd's new autobiographical performance tells, first and foremost, the tale of his growing up gay. That he has an older brother who is also gay is the hook on which the trio of stories hang.

You're left with a sort of ghostly after-image of these real but phantom brothers; the fictional one already dead, the writer now dead too, and Paul, alive but distant. What is not distant but very much alive is Kydd's involving and enjoyable telling of this three-sided tale.

Born and bred in Dundee – "all jam, Jerusalem and journalism, but no mention of jessies" – Kydd had a typical childhood and adolescence. Nothing much happened: a lot happened. Things moved on: things didn't move on.

Always a theatrical child, he became an obsessional storyteller early on and he's at his best when telling us about being the only boy at ballet lessons, his first stage experience with a sweaty-handed Charles Hawtry; finding his brother's porn stash and realising both of them are gay.

In his teens he comes across a book called I Am Divine written by an American queer man, Christopher Coe. It's the story of Nicholas, a pathologically narcissistic homosexual, told by his older brother after Nicholas' death. This speaks to him firstly because he loves the camp cover, secondly because of the gay theme, and lastly because of his relationship with his own older brother Paul. It is the second strand of the interwoven story.

The third and final is Kydd's attempt to track down the author. Coe died of AIDS in 1994, so he has to settle for trying to find his sister, Kally (Kally Coe? Chris Coe? Kydd does speculate if these are actually real people or if their parents just had a wicked sense of humour). Emails and phone calls later, he's no nearer his goal.

Kydd weaves in and out of these strands with ease, but it doesn't really work. He's at his best when talking directly to the audience about his own experiences; when he becomes Coe/the book's narrator, cleaning out his brother's little New York apartment after he dies, dancing with his dressing gown, he loses focus. The words swim about but mean very little. It's artifice, just like Coe's novel, but I don't think it's purposefully meant. It's just doesn't work.

The show uses minimal staging and props, including some colourfully graphic origami hidden in his Big Book of Family, a large black tome he brings out occasionally, Jackanory-style. It acts as a shorthand, as do the images and short cine-film clips of him and his family that are projected onto the back wall. We get just enough of a glimpse of what everything looked like in his youth, but we're not drowned in it: Kydd's storytelling and our imagination are still the key engines.

Toward the end of the piece, it's a shock when Kydd says that he's never been close to his brother and that their relationship is still very low key – "Paul became a sort of after-image that I used to see in the gay bars of the city" – because the whole work is about brothers and you expect some closure but there is none. Nor is there with the search for Kally.

You're left with a sort of ghostly after-image of these real but phantom brothers; the fictional one already dead, the writer now dead too, and Paul, alive but distant. What is not distant but very much alive is Kydd's involving and enjoyable telling of this three-sided tale.

The fictional one already dead, the author one dead too, and Paul, alive but distant.

Reviews by Kat Pope

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The Blurb

“Once there were two brothers, born upon the same day. They were not twins. Although very different, the brothers had one thing in common - as the younger would discover.” Mark Kydd, in his semi-autobiographical solo show, tells an old tale from a unique and intriguing perspective. Created and performed by Mark Kydd Produced by Dermot McLaughlin.

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