[author-post-rating] (3/5 stars)
Scottee sits in a photo booth, a box within the box space where we sit patiently, waiting for him to look at us. He is looking at us, or at least, we can choose to believe so. In the booth – Big Brother Diary Room meets church confessional – he stares into the camera and a video screen on the exterior wall shows us a man more like a painted portrait, a Leigh Bowery-esque goth-glamorous cartoon. His face is unreadable, but perhaps that’s just the fault of the glossy, globular dark glasses and black lipstick replacing all expressive features with three black holes – more like three oil wells, really, because black holes don’t have that particular sheen that reflects only the light, as if we don’t exist. Then he smiles. White teeth and a bright flash as the photo booth takes a snap, a big showy half-snarl that says “welcome to the Scottee show.”
Yet, when he faces us, peeking out from his own particular sort of red curtain with the exact look of mingled dread and hope you’d find on a child looking for his parents on the night of the school play, his mouth trembles. It’s uncertain whether he is about to laugh, cry or vomit. In fact, he sings the jazz standard ‘Cry Me a River’. And wow, does he cry. Black liquid rivers, in fact, as if he really is bleeding or melting, and even in his rich baritone, all the ferocity of the song disintegrates into desperation, his voice has a mournful quality that suggests crying rivers is routine procedure. Still, it’s only showmanship, right? A bit of gorgeous and gory melodrama. When he cries a sort of sobbing jazz scat, we laugh, of course and, like any disgruntled diva, he fires us a furious look, all adolescent affront.
What a sharp and jolting contrast, then, when the song ends and he retreats back into the booth. He pulls off his sunglasses without a touch of theatricality, plucks out the system of tubes from under his shirt, pulling apart that luxuriously lurid image he just gave us. When he tears out the liquid pouch that sourced his tears, he gives a wince of discomfort, a noise of pain – it’s like he’s manhandling his own heart. Perhaps that’s a telling simile, because Scottee or simply Scott as he becomes in this performance, offers us unflinching honesties and, most poignantly, not always with a sense of easy reconciliation with those truths. A naturally absorbing and refreshingly unaffected storyteller, he speaks to the camera (but he likes to check our reactions whenever he says something potentially controversial). He says “bless you” when someone in the audience sneezes. We appreciate, are awed by his candour, so we listen. From white lies to darkest secrets, stories spool out, punctuated by volatile bursts of song and dance.
So how do you rate someone’s heart? How do you put a value judgement on someone’s most exposing truth? Whatever, for me, was missing from the show – a sense of active urgency, I think, of any real demand upon me as a part of this experience – was no doubt something that Scottee and director Chris Goode chose to leave out. That’s the beauty and the difficulty of this show, it knows exactly what it is, what it wants to be, and it seems content with that. Its creators shouldn’t have to apologise for not ‘delivering’ the emotional cataclysm I anticipated, but for me, that what’s makes The Worst of Scottee recommended, but not necessary, viewing. Yes, Scottee takes off his make-up, but something’s still curtailed by the use of the camera. Whilst the final story he tells is an extraordinarily brave, undeniably touching admission, I still can’t quite connect. Even though he has come out to face us in these last moments, it’s almost too late. I must stress, there is no manipulative artifice here, in fact, in its brutal and unrelenting honesty, it is a trial to listen to; I almost wanted to say, “stop, you don’t have tell it, you don’t have to suffer it again for us!” Perhaps that’s the uncomfortable tension in our transaction with him – we end up seeing not the worst of Scottee, but the worst of other people that he has endured. He is a victim, undoubtedly, but we can only witness that trauma, mute and helpless as those who let him down. A show that stuns, yes (do go and see it) but one that doesn’t quite leave a bruise.
The Worst of Scottee is playing at Assembly George Square Box until 24 August. For more information and tickets, please see the Edinburgh Fringe Website.