Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
The Traverse is a writers’ theatre, its commitment to new writing intrinsic to its existence. This makes it an exciting place to visit; one thing here is always certain: you won’t be watching a tired old revival or an over-exposed crowd-pleaser.
Last night’s showcase of the four finalists in the Scotland Short Play Award 2015 was a case in point: a genuinely compelling selection of pieces, all simply staged but powerfully performed, with all the wit, vigour and contention you could hope for from a group of emerging young playwrights.
First up was Morven by Emily Ashton. This was a disturbing howl of a play, with Nicola Roy superb as the anguished mother, who may or may not have murdered her child. Hounded by both press and social workers, at once devastated and furious, the eponymous Morven forced the audience to confront the idea that we can never really know the truth about some stories, no matter how clear cut they appear in the tabloids. The play’s structure was simple, and the director (Tony Cownie) utilised this to advantage, employing some nice techniques, e.g. the disembodied voice of the invisible questioner filling the theatre; the headline-like questions projected onto the wall; the Katie Mitchell-esque ‘live’ projections emphasising the minutiae of Morven’s movements and expression (not least, in fact, at the end, when the projection ceased to mirror Morven, showing how dissociated even she had become). A cracking start.
The second play was Romance by Ross Dunsmore, and this was our favourite of the night. A two-hander, performed with charm and gusto by Joanne Thompson and Cristian Ortega, it explored the complexities of a teenage relationship in the social media age, laying bare the insecurity and vulnerability that leads young girls to share explicit images of themselves. If that sounds bleak, it does the play a disservice, as this was laugh-out-loud funny, depicting the sweetest of boys remaining doggedly loyal to the girl he likes. It even had a hopeful, warm-hearted ending. In some ways, it made a mockery of the media hysteria around sexting. ‘Yeah ok,’ it seemed to say, ‘people do stupid stuff, and there can be ugly consequences, but – you know – this too will pass. It doesn’t have to be the end of the world.’ A poignant, endearing and humorous play. Lovely stuff.
Next was Cameron Forbes’ It Never Ends, another two-hander about a modern relationship, this time focused on the slightly older demographic of the undergraduate. This was perhaps the most controversial piece of the night, dealing as it did with two young people heading out to a club, both keen to let loose: get drunk, get high and get laid. Their intentions were clear and stated, and the first half of the play was full of hope and hedonism, dancing and fun. The following morning, however, waking up in a stranger’s bed, the young woman had no recollection of their sexual encounter, and crept away, bereft and violated. There was no redemption here, and no easy ‘answer’ for the audience. The young man was not a rapist (he was as inchoate as she) but she certainly felt raped. Neither of them found the joy they were seeking. It’s a sad and complex issue, and the tragedy was made clear here.
The final play of the night was Potterrow by Martin McCormick. This was the most ambitious piece by far, and perhaps the least suited to the fifteen-minute time-frame. Nevertheless, it was a fascinating monologue, charting a man’s breakdown: a new parent’s sleep deprivation leading to paranoia and obsession, and – eventually – to the murder of an old woman whose dog fouls The Meadows. We were never quite sure if he was a policeman or not, or if the uniform he wore was just another symptom of his ailing mind. The footprints laid out on sheets across the stage mapped out the man’s demise, and also emphasised how often he became derailed, his intentions thwarted along the way. The performance, by Gavin Jon Wright, was both nuanced and convincing. This playwright is certainly one to watch.
All in all, then, this was a fascinating night, and bodes well for the future of theatre. With these young playwrights at the helm, things look very promising indeed.