Syd Barrett, the mercurial front man and searing talent of 60s psychedelic pioneers Pink Floyd would have turned 70 this year. His contribution to modern culture and his oft mentioned mental health issues are the recurring themes in Alan Bissett’s work for this week’s Play, Pie and a Pint which captures the unpredictable wild-child in all his free-form whimsical charm. The story of Syd’s rise and fall will be familiar to rock fans of a certain vintage and they’ll be heartened to see the full band represented on stage in a haze of liquid lamp projections and Paisley patterned shirts.
Euan Cuthbertson eerily channels Barrett’s sprightly charisma, moving by turns through his floaty persona, drug induced revelations and eventual retreat into a more personal headspace. Meanwhile David James Kirkwood squeezes some juice from an underwritten part as drummer Nick Mason, but also turns in a solid performance as controversial psychiatrist RD Laing attacking the conflicts between music industry demands and Syd’s artistic freedom.
The play raises a whole bunch of questions. Was Syd really developing mental health problems or merely digging deeper toward his own authenticity? Were the Floyd right to ditch their impulsive sprite or did his absence create a spiritual hole that haunted their music? Was he being consciously difficult or just following his muse – baiting the buttoned-up, assembly line music industry with dada-esque pranks to keep himself entertained? Like so many mental health debates the answers seem to lie in the prejudices or open mindedness of the beholder.
The play runs at Òran Mór till Saturday, October 22 then moves to the Traverse in Edinburgh from October 25 – 29 and the Lemon Tree in Aberdeen from November 1 – 5. It’s sprinkled with those peculiar angular songs and reminds us that those who push against the boundaries of social conformity don’t always need treatments – sometimes they are desperately trying to bring colour, imagination and creativity to our dull conformist lives.
Special Event | Thursday, October 20 | 7pm. Òran Mór – Syd Barrett: Dreams and Reality.
Featuring Alan Bissett and Syd Barrett’s nephew Ian Barrett, plus music journalists Nicola Meighan and John Cavanagh in discussion about Barrett’s life and music.