Two Scotsmen and an American woman walk into a bar and... The set-up for fringe stalwarts the TEAM's collaboration with the National Theatre of Scotland might sound jokey, but that's not how the action or fiercely political argument plays out. All three characters are experiencing an identity crisis of sorts, and seek brittle refuge in each other as they attempt to navigate or make sense of their disquietude. One of the Scottish men is sunk in toxic fury following the twin referenda of Independence and EU membership; the other no longer knows how to connect to the land of his birth, having lived in London for years; while the American woman is plagued by anxiety related to climate change.
The question that roils across the stage is: what constitutes identity? When the three first start chatting, it's innocuous stuff: whiskey and cinema, commodities and popular culture. But their road trip in a caravan to the west coast of Scotland is also a journey deeper into history, to the events that scar the land and seep into a country's consciousness. What they find in history, inevitably, is violence: in Scotland, the Highland Clearances, during which small-scale farmers were forcibly evicted from their land; mirrored in the Appalachians, home of the American woman, by the mass clearance of native Americans – enacted in part by the Scottish diaspora. This intertwining of roots is underscored by the presence of a live band, the Bengsons, who dress like clans women and play songs redolent of both landscapes.
The events re-enacted might seem to have no direct connection with the trio on stage – except that all three of them benefit from the exploitative capitalist structure that violence brought forth. Can the dedicated Scotsman really claim Adam Smith as a national hero, when the philosopher was the architect of the modern free market, and “threw the left-wing on the pyre” by giving them hope of a sympathetic liberalism? The fact that his friend works in London finance is a wedge between them; asked why he's so angry, he replies, reasonably, that it's because: “our political system is sick”.
In her book Depression: A Public Feeling, academic Ann Cvetkovich gives a cogent argument for tracing the roots of individual depression back to “histories of colonialism, genocide, slavery, legal exclusion, and everyday segregation and isolation that haunt all of our lives”. Anything That Gives Off Light brings the ghosts of those histories to crude and noisy life; the characters might not be exorcised of their grief by it, but they at least find a new accommodation with each other. (MC)
Anything That Gives Off Light is on at 19.30 at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre until 26 August. See venue for accessibility information - http://www.eif.co.uk/2016/light#.V73Ji45LUfo
On identity crises among adolescents and adults: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201203/are-you-having-identity-crisis
Poet Harry Giles on identity and writing in Scots: https://harrygiles.org/2014/04/17/hou-writin-in-scots-maiters-tae-me/
How to fix America's identity crisis: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/07/a-new-american-melting-pot-214011
On depression as a response to anti-blackness: http://www.forharriet.com/2016/03/depression-is-political.html#axzz4I9SB3Wsn
Choosing action over despondency: http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/05/dont-give-angry-population-hard-govern-depressed-population-easy
Ann Cvetkovich's website: http://www.anncvetkovich.com/