An old man sits confined by a stroke in a wheelchair, eyes fixed on a television screen. As he struggles to communicate with his carer, he relives episodes from earlier in his life, and the memory of his past accomplishments, his loves and his losses give him the determination to recover.
The man is Eduardo Paolozzi, Edinburgh-born artist and creator of striking collages, mosaics and sculptures which were a precursor to the Pop Art movement in the 60s. Graham Eatough’s sometimes irreverent but ultimately respectful script pays homage to the artist, and through emotional and energetic performances from the cast of three, we gain an insight into Paolozzi’s life, work and legacy.
The elderly artist is played by Michael MacKenzie, who gives an astounding performance as the at first almost vegetative Paolozzi, evoking sympathy and pity with little more than eye movements. As his condition improves throughout the course of the 50-minute piece, his speech and movement return, but MacKenzie still captures the essence of a proud and unique individual, having the audience behind him at every tortuous step.
Ian Bustard puts in a spirited performance as the younger Paolozzi, emphasising his stubborn, almost arrogant belief in his own genius through his dishevelled appearance and manner. Louise Ludgate has the most work to do, changing character from nurse to lover; art patron to cousin – and she carries this off well, providing effective foil to the artist at both stages of his life.
The imagery, props and direction are inspired in places – although those not overly familiar with Paolozzi’s work may miss some of the references to his earlier artistic themes of pin-up girls, guns and Mickey Mouse. In this regard, the play suffers a little from its short length: if it was given more space to develop and exploit these themes, it wouldn’t feel as rushed as it does in places.
In summary however, A Shattered Head is a clever, moving and entertaining piece, with MacKenzie’s compelling and evocative performance transforming it into what could perhaps be the highlight of this year’s Play, Pie and Pint season.
A Shattered Head runs at The Traverse Theatre at 1pm every day until Saturday 13th. Further details on the Traverse website.