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Victoria McNulty’s bitter-sweet Glasgow kiss of a prose-poem is a stunning response to class oppression

DIGNIFIED, fearless and profoundly compassionate, Victoria McNulty is the Maria Callas of a Glasgow Barrowlands tongue-lashing.

Her spoken-word film-poem Exiles flies on volleys of hip-hop word-painting, gyrates over the rooftops of the city and identifies the Everyman in the crowd.

There is Icarus, the beautiful doomed youth who will fly too close to other people’s wars and whose only fear is not being frightened.

The convention of the working-class squaddie is familiar enough but McNulty expanding on her particular notion of war is not.

This man fights on behalf of a discourse that brings war into every aspect of life: the “just war,” the “war on terror,” the “war on drugs,” the “class war.”

Alongside Icarus is Eve, a woman “half-knackered by a day of gig-economy graft.”

This is a superb portrait of a lonely young woman, whose garden of Eden is a kitchen spice rack.

Serving in an empty bar, she pours two drinks and addresses an absent man. Were they to meet, their kiss would be “Whyte & McKay slick.”

These are the exiles, isolated stand-ins for an entire class and their lives are “real-estate, caught in the cross-fire.”

Their story is relayed in a kaleidoscope of poetic invention that never pulls a punch and never loses the sense that McNulty loves these characters.

Exiles is peppered with telling detail drawn from city lore: the “rogue falcon nest that couldn’t save the Red Road flats from demolition…” and fearless political satire.

Shot through with a bracingly realistic grasp of Scottish socialism, McNulty keeps nationalism in her cross-hairs. Standing at a lecturn with a microphone, she channels Nicola Sturgeon on her Covid-podium “goose-stepping to Caledonia… Caledonia is calling me,” she croons, “and I don’t call that home.”

The film, directed by Kevin Gilday and David Hayman Jnr, produced by Fair Pley and with music by Calum Baid, is a composite of scenes that open up and explore stand-up poetry in a way that expands the genre and sets new standards.

It recalls Whale Nation and Autogeddon, the great prose poems of Heathcote Williams, but reaches out into new territory and demands a new audience. And deserves it.

In describing a contemporary culture under siege by digital algorithm and surveillance technology, where for the people “only their thoughts are free,” it is exhilarating indeed that this last bastion of freedom finds McNulty as its brilliant exemplar.

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