A call to sincerity in a world of upwards inflections, raised eyebrows and winking emoticons, this slippery, unclassifiable one man show sees Sandy Grierson telling as tall a tale as you’ll ever hear. Taller, even, than its subject: his great-grandfather Arthur Craven, 6’4” with 19 inch biceps, whom he met last year in a drum and bass club on the outskirts of Lisbon.
Craven’s life involves a string of identities, chance encounters with historical and literary giants and half a globe’s worth of countries. Had they been concocted, he’d have enough air miles to get him to the moon and back. He’s a boxer, a lover and ‘the poet with the shortest haircut in the world’. Oh, and he pipped Dada to Dadaism. Yet, such is the intensity of Grierson’s adamancy, that, two days later, I’m still not ready to entirely dismiss the possibility that – maybe, just maybe – it might be true.
Ever since the Observer started its regular Greatest Performance I’ve Ever Seen, I’ve been racking my brains for one of my own. Grierson is giving it nightly at the Assembly Rooms. You can’t take your eyes off him for a second. What seems bizarre now is that he seemed to start too casually, passing from pre-show announcement to show without a flicker of change. From there, Grierson’s performance gradually swells: a ripple becomes a tidal wave. It sweeps us away.
Head tilted, nodding very gently, he bores his stare into us, eyes widened, and implores us to believe him. He is a coiled presence, sinewy but on the edge of explosiveness as he whips us up like a travelling showman. The plan is to attempt a transubstantiation, a summoning of Craven’s presence into the space. He comes as close as is possible: his voice drops a notch, French tumbles out, even his facial features seem to rearrange themselves. We are completely enraptured, totally still to the point of holding our collective breath.
Nevertheless, it’s never entirely clear what his performance is in aid of. The takeaway maxim, Craven’s own, stands at the end: ‘Life has no solution. You have to learn to dream it with greater care’. If it’s attacking irony and flippancy, the sincerity it offers is itself illusory. It could be advocating passion, commitment, that life is for living and rules are for breaking. It never really reveals its motives. Perhaps it’s just a really great tale, really, really well told.