Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
This week’s A Play, A Pie and A Pint is the pithily titled Babs by Morna Young. We’ve enjoyed Young’s work before – Lost at Sea and Aye, Elvis are both excellent examples of Scottish theatre – so we arrive at the Traverse this Tuesday lunch time with high expectations. The set, by Gemma Patchett and Jonny Scott, doesn’t give much away: there are a few fir trees, some pipes, a couple of skulls and a ukelele – an eclectic mix, promising something unusual.
We’re not disappointed.
Bethany Tennick plays Lisa, a troubled young quine from Aberdeen, who lives for her annual holiday with her best pal, Shelley. Apart from that, all Lisa has is her guitar, her tunes and a truckload of attitude. So when Shelley decides she’d rather go away with her new boyfriend, Gareth, Lisa is raging. How dare Shelley ditch her? Desperate and drunk, she signs up for a solo retreat, which turns out to be life-changing, because ‘Babs’, the mysterious host, is none other than Baba Yaga – she of the iron teeth and chicken-legged house… Why has she invited Lisa here?
Young’s decision to write the piece in Doric dialect gives it an urgent authenticity, underscoring Lisa’s need to be true to herself, even as she searches for a new identity. She is a bold, in-your-face character, and Tennick imbues her with such spark and vim that it’s impossible not to warm to her, even when she’s being completely unreasonable. The songs (composed by Tennick) add an extra dimension, showing us that Lisa has the potential to be more than ‘a sheep’, even if she can’t yet see it herself. The plaintive ode to her mother is especially emotive.
Despite its dark themes, Babs is essentially a comedy, and I spend much of the fifty-minute running time laughing at Lisa’s disproportionate outrage, or at her renditions of the other characters who populate the tale. Director Beth Morton keeps the pace snappy, and every joke lands well with the audience.
I’m fair-tricket to say this is another winner from 2023’s first PPP season.