My first encounter with a member of the ‘Pack’ known as ‘Scat’ was on the street, last Thursday, when I noticed a thin young man walking ahead of me wearing an outfit similar to a bumble bee: bright yellow and black. On the back of his jacket was the company name emblazoned for all to see. He pranced with pride down the street, chatting vigorously with his mates – all of whom carried themselves with an infectiously high spirits one would expect on the pavements of a performing arts festival, as opposed to the loathsome air of Hollywoodania put on by so many these days. I took notice, imagining the group to be some odd mix between the American 1940s TV show ‘The Little Rascals’ and characters from an older John Waters movie.
Three days later, me and a friend were sitting eating homemade sandwiches beside the massive graffiti wall near Edinburgh University, when we noticed a big black square painted in the middle with yellow letters also announcing “The Scat Pack” and nothing else. Curiosity killed my cat, and I found myself vigorously flipping through the Great Edinburgh Tree Killer also known as ‘Fringe Guide’, in search of this elusive, chipper troupe. Within minutes we found ourselves braving the thick cigarette smog that shrouds entrance to the C Venues on Chambers Street, and buying our official ScatPack tickets.
Now, anyone who knows me is aware that Theatre to me means Beckett, the fire in me now; serious stuff. I abhor most comedy and would feed its comedians to the pit bulls of the nearest drug dealer. Musical revivalists need to become Buddhist then die so they, too, can come back again, get over the cheap thrill and spare us further torture. Names like Webber, Sondheim and Disney pave the road to hell. So, it was with a curious eye I sat, awaiting the fate of the improvisation gods, as the lights grew dark over the sold-out ScatPack audience.
To my relief and utter delight, what emerged was an intelligent, talented, trained and practised group of actors who brought to life comedic theatre as it should be. With little to work with but a plot dictated by the audience (which included a horror theme set in a bakery in Glasgow and a tap dancing fairy) they brought to life a hilarious play that had every audience member, aged 6 to 60, engaged, involved and bursting with glee. What separates this from inane slapstick, panto, or low-brow potty humor is the skill – this is no simple feat. Serious facilitated theatre dates all the way back to the Greek chorus, and requires a keen awareness on all sides to take this biggest risk on stage – lose the audience for even a second and you might as well give up. But the ScatPack has no worries, they delivered, hands down, receiving the first enthusiastic standing ovation I’ve ever witnessed in Scotland.
So while ‘art is now all sight and sound’ and the ‘books’ may be ‘shut’ as Gore Vidal recently observed, stories and storytelling are very much alive as long as The ScatPack are thankfully prowling. This show beats the pants off all the lesser, thinly-contrived fare. The key ingredient: it was clear that these guys and gals absolutely love what they’re doing. They even stand outside afterward and thank you for coming. Imagine that… And the Scat Pack gets something else right: they don’t look down at their audience, they look into it. Nice one.