“Long Live the Little Knife” by David Leddy

at the Traverse Theatre, Sunday 4th August 2013

*Originally written for Culture Wars*

Even before Long Live the Little Knife begins we are lulled into its world of false realities, as we are handed a programme splattered in paint with a small “edition 20/200” printed at the bottom right. It looks and feels real, but just like the subject matter and form of the piece itself, there are more falsehoods at work than we’d like to believe.

David Leddy (who wrote and directed the piece) here explores the curious urge humans have to have a grasp on authentic objects (such as a wedding ring) and, by extension, works of art; even if the Thing in question may be an exact replica of the original, it’s not quite good enough. The piece uses art forgeries as a central metaphor which is then extrapolated further to contemplate the very idea of theatre itself.

Seats and walls in the studio space at the Traverse are covered in paint-splattered canvas, and on stage the working of theatre are far from hidden, as a desk filled with electrical equipment and papers sits at the front of the thrust. The two performers – Wendy Seager and Neil McCormack – welcome us as we enter. There is no pretence here.

That is, of course, until the ‘play’ begins ‘proper’. Ostensibly, Liz and Jim are having a few drinks with Leddy, and are revealing their secret about being con-artists who specialise in art. It’s presented as a verbatim conversation which has been theatricalised by the playwright, but even at this juncture it’s clear that what we are seeing is unreal. When in a theatre, Leddy suggests, we cannot trust anything, especially if it’s masquerading as ‘real’.

Seager and McCormick flit between locations, narratives, characters and accents with breakneck speed, never maintaining anything for it to be considered ‘real’ and yet presenting each with absolute clarity (like their forgeries). Just like the text, it is impossible to trust them, though their delivery is utterly compelling. It’s not hard to see why others fall for their ploys.

Every shift in scene, lighting change and musical movement is seen to be altered by the on-stage stage manager who also acts as surrogate for Leddy. On his desk are a slide projector and an OHP, with a digital projector being conspicuous by its absence. These two devices somehow feel more real than their computerised counterpart, but of course they’re not; they magnify simulacra just as falsely as any twenty-first century machine. This difficulty in understanding and grasping reality in our current context is highlighted by placing “postmodern” in opposition to “genius” and including the glorious phrasing “Metanarrative – get it up ye” in a way which both utilises and ridicules contemporary discourse about art.

Alongside all this is a critique of free-market capitalism. Art trading is, apparently, one of the few truly deregulated financial markets, and the result is what we see in Long Live the Little Knife. The twist at the end of the piece was, for me, genuinely unexpected, and is as a direct result of the couple’s reliance on anything goes late capitalism. “Milton fucking Friedman” indeed.

Leddy ultimately concludes that sometimes we have to accept forgery and fakes when entering a theatrical space, though asks us to be weary of them. In Long Live the Little Knife, he doesn’t so much as criticize falsehood as simply ask those partaking in it to be, like him, more honest. It’s a witty, hyper-intelligent play, and gives you the tools to look at your artsy programme in a new light: it may be a fake, but it’s still beautiful. So why does it matter?

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