Theatre review: The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler (Citizens Theatre)

The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler
The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler

Basing a play on the life and works of eccentric Scottish artist, musician and one-of-a-kind character Ivor Cutler must have been a tough sell.

The collection of work left by Cutler, who died in 2006, defies any categorisation - although Ned Sherrin perhaps came closest with his suggested genre of ‘surrealist folk’.

Encompassing music, poetry, drawings, stories, jokes and sketches, Cutler’s entire life became a piece of art. The masterpiece, however, was always Cutler himself - his unique personality turning everything and everyone around him into parts of his ‘Beautiful Cosmos’.

It’s into this comically alien and pathos-infused environment that ‘The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler’ aims to transport audiences. The co-production between The National Theatre of Scotland and the Vanishing Point theatre group succeeds to such an extend that it’s somewhat painful to be dragged back to the real world when the curtain finally falls.

Multi-layered framing devices ease the transition into their subject’s world in a near-cinematic manner. An unseen conversation between Cutler and God segues into a meeting between actor Sandy Grierson - the man tasked with taking on the role of Cutler - and his subject’s long-term partner Phyllis King (played with restraint and imbued with great dignity by Elicia Daly). Grierson is then swiftly transformed into the subject of the play, joined by a band of musicians who skilfully double as the colourful characters from his life - from demon headmasters to Cutler’s famous fans Paul McCartney and John Peel).

Key episodes from Cutler’s life are visited with a light and nimble touch. Scenes run into each other, or are connected by renditions and readings of his work. There are a number of running themes - a refusal to take on authority being the most prominent - and a couple of suitably ludicrous set-pieces that the man himself would surely have approved of.

At the centre of it all is Grierson’s remarkable performance, which goes way beyond a simple impression. Indeed, when he steps into the plus-fours and beflowered hat it’s as if he’s possessed by Cutler.

The result is funny, touching, charming and inspirational - the very same attributes that shine like stars in a cosmos created by a true original and reconstructed with love and care.