Fleeto is one of two plays by Scotsman Paddy Cunneen playing at Holden Street Theatres this Fringe. The other is Wee Andy. They are companion pieces, both about gang violence in Glasgow, and both informed by Cunneen’s fascination with Ancient Greek drama. I have not yet seen Wee Andy, but Fleeto is poor theatre at its best: intense, fast-paced and visceral.
A teenager named Wee Andy has been murdered and his gang (or ‘fleeto’ in Glaswegian street talk) vow revenge. Six of the gang’s members, decked in trainers and hoodies and hollering like a pack of dogs, come bounding onto the stage from amidst the audience in a moment of frightening proximity. The gang’s two alpha males – Kenzie (Neil Leiper) and Mackie (Jordan McCurrach) – plot a knifing or two in order to avenge the death of their friend at the hands of a rival gang. Soon enough, the deed is done; another boy lies dead, stabbed through the heart. Into the cycle of violence steps a policeman (Andy Clark) who narrates the aftermath of the latest killing with grim perspicuity.
It’s harrowing stuff to be sure but Fleeto’s violence is staged theatrically rather than realistically. It is a mother’s grief – not the stabbing itself – which really shocks. Fleeto is also concerned with another kind of violence, the violence of impoverishment, of a kind of social invisibility which renders boys like Kenzie and Mackie undesirable, unemployable, beyond help or hope. Cunneen’s play opens up explicit questions about class, about mob behaviour and about individual responsibility but it is never polemical. He ensures his characters breathe their own air and this allows for universally terrific performances. I was most impressed, however, by McCurrach’s hard but ultimately sympathetic Mackie and by Pauline Knowles whose grief as a murder victim’s mother was unnervingly palpable.
Theatrically lean and fiercely political, Fleeto strikes at the heart of the deeply troubling issue of community violence not just in Glasgow, but anywhere in the world disenfranchised young people are picking up knives instead of books.