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Bits ‘N’ Pieces – Leith Arches – Edinburgh Fringe

This production had the longest pre-show performance I have come across to date at the Edinburgh Fringe, and one of the longest I’ve ever encountered. It may even have been longer than the pre-show at Once the Musical, whose West End production was famed for operating an on-stage bar before the show, and again at the interval, and included direct interaction between cast and audience long before the house lights went down for the show proper. This wasn’t folk music and singer-songwriter material, however: there was a full-on rave going on. As I’d arrived at the venue earlier than I intended, I had assumed the tubthumping beats must have been the previous show finishing up, so it was a surprise to be ushered straight into the performance space.

Matty (Calum Manship) on left, and Tommy (Nathan Scott-Dunn)
Matty (Calum Manship) on left, and Tommy (Nathan Scott-Dunn).

I’ve never been a fan of clubbing personally, and it’s something I’ve only ever done after much persuasion from friends. The volume would be cranked up so loud I’d have to shout myself hoarse just to talk to someone – I have a lot of respect for bar staff in such places that have an extraordinary ability to hear people giving their orders. But there was something surprisingly inviting about the party atmosphere created in this production, and if I hadn’t seen five other productions before this one on the same day, I might have been more inclined to join in myself.

As the narrative gradually makes clear, however, indulging in the nightclub lifestyle, if it can be called that, can involve dabbling in drugs. For the uninitiated, like yours truly, all is explained, at least in part because the characters themselves are not all as knowledgeable as one another. It might well have been a mere narrative device to ensure the audience understands what’s happening, but it seems credible to me that not everyone has the exact same level of comprehension about, well, anything. And, as St Paul’s Letter to the Romans put it, the wages of sin is death.

Set in Edinburgh, the show is very much by Scottish people for Scottish people. But it is far from impenetrable for audience members from elsewhere. The narrative reveals some uncomfortable truths – I initially thought someone dying from a night out was bordering on melodramatic. Was this yet another contemporary play in which everything is, all things considered, relatively tickety-boo, before a critical incident comes along, like a tragedy, and irrevocably changes the lives of those left behind?

I didn’t know anything about the sheer number of drug-related deaths in Scotland, and Tommy (Nathan Scott-Dunn) points out that nothing was taught in schools when he, Dougie (Sandy Bain) and Matty (Calum Manchip) were students, as part of the personal and social education (PSE) curriculum with regards to things like substance misuse and the potential effects of consuming certain drugs. A newspaper opinion column I read the morning after I attended this show said: “Scotland’s drug death rate is nearly five times higher than England’s: so why does Scotland need changes to the laws on drug misuse, when the rest of the UK is doing a much better job of tackling the problem under existing legislation?

That goes a little beyond the already broad scope of this production, which also incorporates the lads’ working lives post-education: Matty pursues a career in the Armed Forces, while Dougie becomes a delivery driver for a local takeaway, and Tommy is in a steady job at Standard Life, but hates it with such a vengeance one would be forgiven for thinking there’s a quarter-life crisis going on. Parent-child relationships are explored in some detail, with Dougie’s mother Kim (Christie Russel-Brown) and Matty’s mother Mandy (Emily Drew) making regular appearances.

Completing the set of on-stage characters is the DJ (Emma Hussain), who gets multiple chances to shine. Officially the show has no interval, but there is a de facto one when it naturally follows that there should be more clubbing – the audience is invited to participate, and it becomes clear that the music will run for long enough for people to order another drink at the bar or use the toilet, or indeed both. As it turns out, it was all part of a dramatizing an actual event called Sulta Selects that happened on Saturday 22 December 2018 at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall – the first time the venue, which usually hosts classical concerts, held a rave. But not everyone who went would be around in 2022 to recollect what happened.

The performances are very raw and very real, delivering a gritty story at pace, making full use of the available performance space in an in-the-round setting. A unique and dynamic production.

5 Star Rating

Review by Chris Omaweng

Bits ‘N’ Pieces, follows the story of three friends close as brothers; Matty.
Dougie and Tommy recount tales of their friendship and aspirations throughout their mundane day to day. When Matty is called to Afghanistan with the RAF the boys want to make sure they send him off the right way. Denis Sulta? All night rave? Usher Hall? Too good to be true! Immersing the audience in this final hurrah, the show becomes an assault on the senses featuring music from a resident live DJ, as we track the course of the night and its implications…

Bits ‘N’ Pieces by Nathan Scott-Dunn
Aug 8-10, 12-17, 19-23 22:30
Leith Arches (Venue 324)

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