The Scent of Roses


Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

After an unfortunate delay, due to the continuing saga of the dreaded COVID 19, The Scent of Roses is finally with us and it’s been well worth the wait. A timely meditation on the nature of everyday lies and the importance of finally speaking the truth, Zinnie Harris’s spiky, ambitious play is beautifully realised within Tom Piper’s austere set design. Initially claustrophobic, a suburban bedroom is gradually opened out like an ingenious puzzle box to reveal unexpected depths and wider horizons.

We’re somewhere in Scotland in the near future, where the summer temperatures are soaring and where birds are liable to fall from the skies for no explicable reason – and everywhere there’s the unpleasant odour of dying flowers.

Chris (Peter Forbes) and his wife, Luci (Neve Mcintosh), are having a heart-to-heart in their bedroom. Chris has little choice in the matter, because Luci has locked them both inside and hidden the key. It seems to be the only way she can get him to open up to her. Chris, it seems, has not been entirely truthful about his fidelity over the years and, it turns out, Luci has a terrible secret of her own to share with him.

Meanwhile, their daughter, Caitlin (Leah Byrne), arrives at the house of her former teacher (and lover), Sally (Saskia Ashdown), carrying a dead crow in her bloodstained hands. Caitlin claims to have run over the unfortunate bird on her bike – but then she also adds that she’s just murdered her father. It quickly becomes clear that Caitlin is a serial liar and we shouldn’t take anything she says for granted.

It’s only when Sally heads over to meet up with her estranged mother (Maureen Beattie) that the various strands of this Gordian knot of a storyline are finally unravelled before being skilfully retied. The cast all handle their roles admirably (particularly Beattie as the long-suffering mother who must put her own triumphs on hold in order to see to her daughter’s issues) and Harris handles the directorial reins with assurance. Ben Ormerod’s lighting design floods the stage with a palpable swathe of brilliant ‘heat.’

After a recent diet of tried-and-tested crowdpleasers, this is exactly the kind of theatre I’ve been longing for – mature, challenging and above all else, thought-provoking; so much so that my companion and I immediately head off to a local drinking den to discuss it at great length.

Which accounts for the fact that I’m writing this with a wee bit of a hangover.

At least, that’s my story. And I’m sticking to it.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney


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