The 1996 sophomore album from Glasgow-based cult indie-art band Belle and Sebastian, If You’re Feeling Sinister, has been heralded as magnificent by legions of fans since its release. Now, with a minimal plot weaved within it, it has been presented as an unremarkable theatre piece.
Kid (Sarah Swire), a lost youth, and Boss (Alan McHugh), a deadly bored lecturer, share in a complicated relationship swimming in lust and a common semi-unconscious obsession with power dynamics. An absurd art heist, resulting in the possession of Salvador Dali’s Christ of Saint John of the Cross, accentuates the intricacies of their relationship, and despite an ever-resurfacing desire to be free of each other, a powerfully presented magnetism frequently pulls the duo back together.
Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian’s emotive song-writing occasionally feels appropriated by up-beat and over enunciated musical theatre renditions, yet, other moments such as a playful duet of ‘Seeing Other People’, led by McHugh, perfectly taps into the lyrical and melodious talent of the band. This sequence even ends with a well-performed ‘in-joke’ as the next line “there’s a hand over my mouth” is rendered inaudible by Kid’s hand literally preventing words from escaping Boss’s mouth. The tunes featuring live acoustic guitar by the two cast members are undoubtedly more powerful than those performances with a recorded backing track.
Intelligently devised themes, often related to existentialism, produce heavy and heart-wrenching moments. The unseen Dali painting of Jesus also allows for some sharply witty but religiously-tinged moments of pondering and questioning the world around them.
Being familiar with the music of Belle and Sebastian, the city of Glasgow and wider Scottish culture is far from fundamental to your enjoyment of If You’re Feeling Sinister, however, it does elevate it from what is otherwise and overly-compacted and thinly plotted – although pleasant enough to sit through – play.
If You’re Feeling Sinister: A Play With Songs is on at Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose, Doonstairs
At 15:45 until 26th August
Buy tickets here
Image: Mihaela Bodlovic