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National Theatre of Scotland, Glasgow
GLASGOW’S Merchant City was built on profits from the slave trade and the same applies to Edinburgh, Bristol, Liverpool and other cities.
It takes outstanding, innovative art to plant this historical truth in the imagination, bring us close to the human cost and touch us — and the National Theatre of Scotland’s production of Ghosts, written and directed by Adura Onashile, is a stellar example.
In it, a young man in 18th-century Glasgow is the guide to a 500-plus years of resistance through the streets of the Merchant City down to the River Clyde.
This socially distanced walk through the heart of modern Glasgow reveals an essential vision of the city. The whole show plays out through your phone via an app and, along the way, Scotland’s collective amnesia about slavery, racialised wealth, empire and identity is explored.
You are guided through the city, from graveyard to monument to back street to river and, as two voices accompany you, so images are superimposed on the view of the city that is being picked up by your own camera.
As you use your phone to look at Glasgow, a window appears and through it you see a sugar crop in Virginia. You stand in Glasgow, look at Glasgow, but see through it to the plantation that paid for the city’s imperious architecture.
Surrounded by augmented-reality visuals, haunting voices and music, Ghosts is a physical and emotional journey, a lament to lives lost and an impassioned call to action in the present day.
Brilliantly realised, it is a technical triumph. But the outstanding quality of Ghosts is the poetic imagination that has fused voice, image and city together to make something more than history and more than ordinary theatre.
It is something entirely new, revealing what was always there — the presence of a black identity, warm and playful, poetic and political, that underlies all our cities.
The voices — mocking, urgent and sorrowing — are perfectly pitched by Reuben Joseph and Lisa Livingstone and the breathtaking effect of this technological theatre is to transport you into a new vision of familiar streets and a new experience of those around you.
Far too good to be restricted to a short run, Ghosts should be adopted by Glasgow City Council and made available to every school in the city.
Until May 9. Apps available, £4.99, from App Store for iPhones or Google Play Store for Android devices.
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