What’s the price of fame? For some it’s a high one indeed and Syd Barrett, the former lead singer of avant garde London rock band Pink Floyd, was one of who paid dearly. In this specially commissioned play for Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival, writer Alan Bissett uses the vehicle of the early ‘70s English music scene and the experiences of Syd Barrett, brilliantly captured by Euan Cuthbertson, to explore and expose the stresses involved in the rarefied world of musical success for the vulnerable.
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was the band’s first hit album and comes from the children’s classic The Wind in the Willows that Barret’s late father had read to him a child and whose characters haunts him throughout the play. Following its success, Barrett starts to display strange and disquieting behaviour. He is zoned out. He doesn’t sing for his public. He doesn’t even mime for TV films. Whether he’s taken one piece too many of whatever illegal substance he was on or whether underlying mental issues have surfaced under the intense spotlight of fame has not been confirmed. Either way, what we witness in this sensitive and evocative play is the tragic collapse and retreat of a beautiful young man from so-called normal life, to that of a poor and troubled soul.
The era is captured in the giant shifting, swimming shapes of a lava lamp, so emblematic of the period, along with the recreation of the skinny hipped kohl eyed androgyny that abounded at the time on that scene. The strong cast of four young actors may mime to the Floyd’s tracks but they actually look the part though the period must seem like ancient history to them. Under Sacha Kyle’s slick direction, the various significant stages of Barret’s life in the late ‘60s are realised as he slides away from the band while it continues its ascendency without him. His longing for quiet amid the band’s noise is surely a significant hint at his disquiet within.
The dilemma of dropping their main man in the band’s greater interest is captured well by Andrew John Tait as the diplomat and level headed group member Roger Waters and is shown sartorially in their moves from floral shirts to corduroy and suede jackets with black polo necks.
Whether Barrett was schizophrenic is not clear but at the time controversial Glasgow born psychiatrist RD Laing said, “I’m simply asking, Mr Waters, how do you know it’s Syd who has the problem?” Barrett died in 2006 and would have been 70 this year. Bissett's play manages to neatly capture his sad demise amid reconstructed psychedelia, while casting a sympathetic eye over the vital issue of mental ill health.
Tue 25 – Sat 29 Oct, 1pm; Fri 28 Oct, 1pm & 7pm age recommend 14+