Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
This sprightly two-hander packs a lot into its fifty-minute running time. Until It’s Gone is the first of 2023’s A Play, a Pie and a Pint offerings, and it’s a corker: Alison Carr’s tight and cleverly-crafted script imagines a future where all of womankind have disappeared, and men are left to make the best of a world without them. In stark contrast to Charlotte Perkins-Gilman’s Herland, where women have created a female Utopia, this male-only Scotland is a dystopian mess, its citizens desperate for the women to return from their unspecified and unexplained exile.
We’re offered a glimpse into this terrifying scenario through a simple park-bench, chalk-and-cheese set-up: a meeting between an eager young man of twenty-five (Sean Connor) and a gruff older one (Billy Mack). They’ve been matched by a supposedly ‘world-beating’ app, but this is not a date – or at least, not a conventional one. They are two avowedly heterosexual, cis-gendered men, following a strict government mandate to ‘connect’ – because things aren’t sustainable as they are. Through this smallest of microcosms, Carr seeds just enough information into the men’s darkly comic dialogue to allow us to envisage the bigger picture, the tortured society in which they live, where schools are closed, most interactions happen online, and everything feels wrong.
The characters are beautifully realised, played with warmth and humour by Connor and Mack, even as they expose the men’s real pain. The generational divide is deftly managed, the initial chasm between them narrowing as they talk and share confidences, slowly realising that they’re more alike than not, that their shared fate should bind them rather than pull them apart.
Under Caitlin Skinner’s assured direction, the play’s political points are clearly made without ever feeling intrusive. I like the cheeky use of tableaux and blackouts to mark the passage of time at the beginning, and the set – by Gemma Patchett and Jonny Scott – is modest but strikingly effective. I’m especially drawn to the myriad images of women adorning the tumbledown walls, and find myself wondering if they are ‘missing’ posters or simply photos, there to remind the men of what they’ve lost.
Because, of course, you never know until it’s gone…