Exiles a Spoken word film written and performed by Victoria McNulty
The emergence of one-person spoken word theatre shows in recent years is a story of the growing importance of spoken word and poetry as an art form and of a necessity for cost-effective low budget ways of producing theatre shows. This has emerged from the poetry scene and from theatre at the same time. In recent years, shows like Head’s Up by Kieran Hurley from the theatre side of things, Jenny Lindsay’s This Script from the poetry scene and The Drift by Hannah Lavery from somewhere in between, spring to mind as stand-outs in what might be a growing and improving sub-genre. Exiles takes its place among those and also fits in as a post-Covid production, like NTS’s Scenes for Survival series, socially distanced, isolated and using music, film and traditional performance together, successfully it has to be said.
Socially distanced, not in a COVID sense, is part of Exiles. The main characters, Icarus and Eve are simultaneously at home and lost in a city that is both theirs and not. The backdrop is an uncomfortable Glasgow, moving on to a new future without ever coming to terms with it’s past. McNulty weaves these stories together, part performing, part relating, part documenting.
We hear snippets of pub conversations, we see Icarus and Eve wandering in the city landscape and, throughout, McNulty’s powerful, driven, Spoken Word performances. It’s a film of myths and legends, the tales that Glaswegians like to tell themselves about their city and the hidden reality behind those stories. A city built on myths about it’s men, hard men, union men, told from a woman’s point of view. We see a Glasgow that is dying, rebuilding and, the whole time held together by its people, the women who “carry whole communities on their shoulders”. This is real politics, the politics of people’s lives, barely keeping afloat in a sea storm beyond their control.
Exile’s is directed by theatre-maker and spoken word artist Kevin P Gilday, who also co-directed (with Cat Hepburn) McNulty’s earlier show Confessionals, and filmmaker David Hayman Jr. The stark soundscape is by Edinburgh singer-songwriter Calum Baird. Together they have created a multi-media masterclass, a benchmark. Each element interplays with the other, the photography, the poetry, the music, complementing each other to produce a film that is beautiful to watch, uncompromising in its message and genuinely breath-taking to listen to.
The film is set at the arse end of Blairism, in a post-devo Scotland at conflict with itself, a land of competing nationalisms of jingoistic British adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan and the modern Scotland of gentrification and smoking bans. Glasgow is a pub, an Irish pub, lamenting its forthcoming death. In this background Icarus and Eve try to find each other, always nearly close but far away from their own lives and each other. It is a stunning piece of work, it grabs you, shakes you, wont let you go, and makes sure that you hear it, like the old guy in the pub that you half-wish you hadn’t started talking to but whose wisdom and insight are worth wading through the pish patter to hear.
Victoria McNulty is one of our most important voices. She knows the working-class lives that she talks about, she understands the city and country she lives in and she is not scared to portray its ugly reality. Her writing over the last 5 years has always been important, always engaging but in Exiles she has found her true voice and medium. I had high expectations based on her previous work and all of them were met and more.
Exiles is directed by acclaimed spoken word artist Kevin P. Gilday and award-winning film-maker David Hayman Jr. Music by singer-songwriter Calum Baird. Produced by Stephen Wright at Fair Pley. Supported by Creative Scotland. It is available to view until Monday 31 May, tickets are just £5 at this link