Multi-media:STORMY WATERS Meadowside Granary, Glasgow

John Arlidge
Monday 24 July 1995 23:02

Glasgow's decaying shipyards have provided the inspiration for two of the boldest theatrical productions of recent years: Bill Bryden's plays The Ship and The Big Picnic, staged in the Harland and Wolff Old Engine Shed in Govan. To these post-industrial successes must now be added the techno triumph of Stormy Waters at the Meadowside Granary on the banks of the Clyde.

Angus Farquhar's production, watched live on Friday and Saturday by a 2,000-strong audience and by a potential 30 million more on the Internet worldwide computer network, was Britain's first interactive electronic theatrical experience. The stars were not the actors, who danced and shuffled along the Clyde next to the largest brick building in Europe and a half- completed bulk carrier, but the flickering images projected on to a giant wall next to the Kvaerner Govan shipyard.

The live transmissions came from artists in more than 20 countries around the world - images and text sent to Glasgow University via the Internet and transmitted by live radio link to the quayside. As the words flashed and the faces whizzed past, the entire performance was sent back on to the Internet seconds later. Anyone with a ticket or a computer could watch. This was Glasgow - city of techno culture - with a worldwide audience.

Farquhar's decision to use the abandoned docks for the high-tech production was deliberate. The juxtaposition of the moribund industries on which Victorian Glasgow was founded and New Age electronic communications was designed to provoke Glaswegians to reconsider the future of their home. "Is this city trapped by its past or ready to face the future? Can we re-invent ourselves?" Stormy Waters asked.

The show began - slowly, mournfully - in old Scotland. Two fishermen cast off into the Clyde. Waiting, swigging whiskey. Pipers marched along the quay. Soon they moved to the city where teams of goggled-eyed workers scurried around an imaginary shop floor building, making, repairing. Then as the Sativa Drummers struck up a relentless percussive accompaniment the narrator Ronald Fraser Munro connected to the Internet. "Login sequence ... number dialling ... the screech of electronic connection."

The giant cranes across the water swayed and dipped to the drumbeat, and sparks from the welders' torches shot out into the freezing Scottish summer drizzle. The first images appeared - Glasgow University, cascading numbers, a black face, and images from San Francisco, South Africa, Singapore, Israel ... "Don't dwell in the past," the voiceover said. "Fate has no respect for man but man must respect time." Even those who had come to see a Jean Michel Jarre-style music and light show, could not have failed to get the point; Glasgow must change or die.

For Farquhar, Stormy Waters is a prelude to Glasgow's city of Architecture and Design celebrations in 1999. Then, he says, he plans to use other areas of the city to illustrate change in Glasgow's urban environment and urban role: "Our sense of place can never mean the same again."

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