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Edinburgh Fringe Festival – Continuous Growth (Review & Interview)

The Red Curtain believes all of life’s philosophies should be predicated on the consumption of chocolate. So it is natural we loved Continuous Growth – we warmly embrace any theatre that declares the world’s problems could be lessened if we just shared our last Rolo with someone we loved.

Andy Axelgrinder (Billy Mack) is sat on a plane, about to crash, his life flashing before his eyes. It’s the life of a beleaguered family man who sets about building his fortune by trying to sell sheds. With hopes for little more than buying a nice three-bed flat for his wife in Bearsden, his ventures instead lead to him accidentally bringing about the collapse of the modern Western economy. Meanwhile, circling Andy’s periphery are a gaggle of chancers and drifters who exploit his hapless open nature, the worst being his vapid bint of a wife, Joanna (Hazel Anne Crawford). As society falls down around Andy’s ears, he can’t help but dwell upon the memory of his first love, Linda, the woman he once proffered his last Rolo to…

Adapted from a Finnish play for Scottish audiences by Catherine Grovesnor, Continuous Growth is the perfect companion piece to last year’s The Overcoat (again a Finnish play adapted by Grovesnor, staged by the same director, Aleksis Meaney, and featuring much of the same cast). Both productions are energetic condemnations of capitalist ideals, but whilst The Overcoat, with its silent protagonist Akaki Akakievich, focused on the desperate plight of one man, Growth is interested not only in Andy Axelman’s development, but also his wife Joanna and lost love Linda, and how they overcome the constraints and strictures of a capitalist society. As such it offers a much broader view of problems caused for people by the current catastrophic economic climate. Both plays had frantic pacing and wildly comic tones, but Growth is far more sweet and ultimately optimistic, suggesting we could all make it through the mess of an economically ruinous world state if we were just a little more generous and a little less self-absorbed.

With a host of 40-odd characters depicted in a feverishly paced 90 minutes by five actors, Continuous Growth requires an active, agile cast, and it is fortunate in having a collection of Glasgow’s finest on stage. They gurn and preen and declaim with aplomb, but one cast member in particular distinguishes himself: Billy Mack, playing our hero. The Red Curtain is ever-more of the opinion that Mack’s face is the best thing to happen to contemporary Scottish Theatre. It is wondrous: expressive, soulful, dexterous. One moment he gapes with the vacant hope of a school boy with a desperate crush, the next his face crumples with the weight of a man suffering a lifetime’s worth of disappointments. His performance, similar to his appearance in The Overcoat last year as Akaki, is the beating heart of Continuous Growth, and is never less than riveting. He’s ably supported by Hazel Ann Crawford as his aspirational wife, her turn beginning as broadly comic and gauche, and developing ever more nuance and subtlety as Joanna’s layers are revealed.

Grovesnor’s adaptation of the Finnish source material is so cleverly done you’d assume the play was written for Scottish audiences, gleefully depicting all the rich, varied aspects of Glaswegian life, with in-jokes aplenty. There’s nothing to alienate international audiences though: the play’s themes are universal and a deft understanding of humanity’s frailties and strengths is at its heart. If that makes Growth sound worthy, it’s not: despite being intellectually stimulating and emotionally sound, it’s also howlingly funny, and very, very silly. Continuous Growth may be about personal development, but as shows go, it arrives perfectly formed. Recommended.

Katrina Conaglen met with two of the show’s cast members, Billy Mack (Andy Axelgrinder) and Hazel Anne Crawford (Joanne Axelgrinder), to discuss the show in greater depth. Listen to the interview here: 

Growth from Katrina Conaglen on Vimeo.

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