City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler, Traverse Theatre, Review

By Bill Dunlop - Posted on 30 April 2014

Beautiful Cosmos
Show Details
Traverse Theatre
Vanishing Point
Matthew Lenton (director), James Gardner (lighting), Andrew Kirkby (sound)
Jo Apps (bass, jupiter 4, vocals), Elicia Daly, James Fortune (piano, flute, harmonium, toy piano, vocals) Ed Gaughan (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, vocals), Sandy Greirson, Magnus Mehta (drums, percussion, vocals) Nick Pynn (acoustic guitar, bass pedals, dulcimer, fiddle, mandocello, saw, ukelele, vocals)
Running time: 

‘The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler’ attempts to encapsulate in two hours the life (or some of it) and work (or some of it) of an eccentric surrealist.

Cutler, a poet and songwriter admired by many, often for divergent reasons and from differing perspectives, refuses, even in death, to be neatly pigeonholed and seems to continue to defy definition.

Vanishing Point have thus set themselves a considerable challenge, which this elegant and frequently entertaining production goes some way toward meeting.

It’s a delicate balancing act that emerges through scenes taking us from Cutler’s early and formative years as part of a fairly conventional Glasgow-Jewish family of the mid-twentieth century through his development as a performance poet (a phrase unrecognised when Cutler first became one) to the kinds of low-level breakthrough that led to appearances on the radio shows of John Peel and Andy Kershaw and his ‘surrealist folk songs‘ being broadcast on BBC Radios 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Framed and focused by interview scenes between Sandy Greirson, researching the Ivor Cutler he is about to play and Elicia Daly embodying Cutler’s partner and sometime collaborator Phyllis King, ‘The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler’ conveys perhaps more of the essence of that relationship than of the enigmatic performer himself.

Clearly and in all senses a tough nut to crack, Cutler sometimes seems to slip between the narrow gaps in Vanishing Point’s re-telling of his story. Although there’s much to enjoy in this production, this reviewer was sometimes reduced to curmudgeonly grumbling, as he was at the end of the first act; the satirising of a cliché does not make it any less a cliché.

Cavils aside (and this reviewer has a few), what emerges is nonetheless a clearly heart-felt attempt to honour a genuinely unique talent, one with its own very particular take on that fragile, fleeting creation, humankind.

Til 3 May, 2014