How do you turn a poem into a piece of theatre? Morag Fullarton’s answer, as she directs Liz Lochhead’s 2016 poem Credo into a charming seven-minute short as part of the National Theatre Scotland’s Scenes for Survival, shares something with the impulse of a children’s book illustrator. Her creation, performed by Lochhead herself alongside Andy Clark, turns on simplicity and wit, and an impressive intimacy with the audience, even through the screen.
Lochhead sits off-centre in the stands of an empty open-air theatre. She faces an undecorated stage, where Clark paces, mimes, dances, agonises – contorts himself to satisfy her words. She is a director in rehearsal, a children’s story time reader, giving advice or instructions to a single listener in need of constant correction but also eager to please. She is a figure of wisdom delivering a mediation, or manifesto, or a mandate. Whether we are being consulted, advised, or commanded, all I know that is that we want to listen. The shots which zoom out to the rows and rows of unfilled seats around Lochhead should emphasise her smallness, but Fullarton’s use of colour, where Lochhead’s orange and red toned clothes stand out of the grey and green backdrop like a single ripe tomato in a harvested field, ensures that Lochhead steals the gaze and becomes, in these shots, unavoidably alluring.
Daryl Cockburn’s filming and editing conjures a certain magic throughout the piece. Simplicity and crispness characterise his style, with never a wasted shot nor meaningless angle. Lochhead’s facial expressions shine in the close-ups – cheeky, eyebrow-arching – which expose us to the full smart of her light-hearted mockery; we grovel an apology for any time we told folk what to think, or told the story out of order. Lochhead’s facial expressions revel in these close-ups. Wider shots reveal the small but lively details which give the production its character, like the stepladder which Clark has to climb to get onto the stage or the ‘Keep It Fresh’ box which stores his props. This sharp filming coincides with the colour-schemed symmetry of the setting to create a Wes Anderson-esque effect as Lochhead reads her lines.
This piece borrows from film director Wes Anderson, too, the feeling of two overlapping – different, if not explicitly conflicting – rhythms. Lochhead’s lilting vocals and subtle, wry facial expressions follow the rhythm of the teacher – rehearsed, experienced, controlled – whereas Clark’s movements are less continuous, more stop-start: the rhythm of the student who acts and then must correct, over and over again. Clark’s actions are immediate signifiers, operating within the audience’s first viewing and exerting their effect, humorous or illustrative, at once, whereas Lochhead’s vocals can only register after multiple viewings. That is, while I found that re-watching Clark’s movements only consolidated already-gathered humour, listening again to Lochhead’s words multiplied their meaning through details or expressions I had previously missed.
With Clark as the body and Lochhead as the voice of the duet, pulled together into a harmony of taste by Fullarton’s bold yet structured direction, Credo offers a charmingly honest reworking of this 2016 poem, which demands to be watched over and over again.