Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
About ten minutes into the performance of We Are in Time, Susan taps me on the shoulder. She leans in close and whispers two words into my ear.
I stare at her in bewilderment. I mean, there are many words I would use to describe this show – unique, audacious, beautiful – but ‘tosh’ certainly isn’t one of them. She notes my puzzled expression and shakes her head, then points surreptitiously to The Narrator, a young woman whose face has been naggingly familiar from the moment she walked onstage. The penny drops. Of course! It’s Alison O’Donnell, best known for playing DS Alison ‘Tosh’ McIntosh in the TV detective drama, Shetland. And I have to say, ‘Tosh’ is a long way from her regular beat.
I relax and go back to being enraptured.
It’s hard to describe exactly what this show is, but I’ll try. The set has all the stark, clinical lines of an operating theatre, complete with two illuminated tables. Instead of being peopled by a team of surgeons, however, there are a dozen musicians, sawing industriously away at their respective instruments – violin, viola, cello, double bass – creating a series of mournful, haunting melodies. Meanwhile, the recently deceased Jay (Jodie Landau) wanders calmly amongst them, singing lines that seem to have originated in a medical textbook, while Stella (Ruby Philogene) gratefully prepares to receive his donated heart. Every so often, O’Donnell chimes in with detailed information about the various procedures that are observed in such situations. Behind the performers, a large screen conveys a series of related images.
Through the various streams of information, we follow the progress of the heart, which travels from Jay’s chest cavity, halfway across the globe, until it finally finds its new home in Stella. In the process, a compelling and complex human drama is enacted through music, song and imagery. The result is eerily haunting, surprisingly informative and even suspenseful.
Written by Pamela Carter, with music composed by Valgeir Siguròsson and beautifully performed by the Scottish Ensemble, We Are in Time is quite simply an extraordinary theatrical experience. In all my years of theatre-going, I can honesty say that have never seen anything quite like it before.
And that, in my book, is a major recommendation.