Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

The A Play, A Pie and a Pint season continues its cracking run with this intriguing two-hander, written by Aodhan Gallagher and directed by Irene McDougall. It’s a play about writers and writing, so naturally I’m fascinated to see what it has to say about the subject – and, as it turns out, it has plenty. What’s more, I’m delighted to note how many unexpected twists and turns are packed into a brisk fifty-minute running time.

Freddie (Richard Conlon) is a long-established fiction writer, currently preparing to start work on a new novel – most of which is already a stack of crumpled notes in his wastebasket. He’s never seen the necessity for incorporating elements from his own life into the gritty psychological thrillers he’s made his reputation on. These are brutal tales filled with violence and action. But lately, Freddie’s publishers have become a little twitchy, pointing out that his earlier work is increasingly being perceived as ‘problematic’. 

With this in mind, they’ve suggested that this time around, he might want to employ a ‘sensitivity reader’, somebody more attuned to contemporary issues. Enter Ben (Bailey Newsome), the promising student of one of Freddie’s literary acquaintances. Ben is young, gay and confidently in touch with the zeitgeist. He sports a beanie hat and trendy footwear. He also has an unpublished novel of his own that he’s very keen to get noticed…

Write-Off’s acerbic dialogue hooks me from the get-go and my sympathies bounce from character to character as the two men, by turns adversaries and allies, discuss their respective ambitions, beliefs and motives. One moment I’m laughing out loud at Freddie’s caustic observations, the next I’m gasping at some new revelation from Ben, which I genuinely haven’t seen coming. Can these two men ever hope to settle their differences enough to work together on a project?

The performances of the two actors are utterly believable and while it could be argued that this is a piece that’s completely predicated on its quickfire dialogue – and might work just as effectively as a radio play – it’s nonetheless a compelling and challenging production that maintains its propulsive edge right up to the final scene.

I head straight from the play to The National Library of Scotland where – inevitably – I’m working on my new novel. Who says life doesn’t imitate art?

4 stars

Philip Caveney


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