Isley Lynn

The War of the Worlds

09/08/19

Pleasance Forth, Edinburgh

In 1938, Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre Company transmitted a groundbreaking radio drama, an adaptation of H G Wells’ The War of the Worlds. In an attempt to bring the piece up to date, the story was told through a series of eerily realistic news reports, utilising sound effects and, at one point, even lapsing into total silence – an unprecedented technique on radio. The result was mass panic. Hordes of people, thinking they had tuned in to an actual news bulletin, left their homes in terror, convinced that the planet really was being invaded by aliens.

Theatre group Rhum and Clay reproduce extracts from the original broadcast, but intercut them with a contemporary story in which ambitious podcaster, Meena, visits the town of Grovers Mill in New Jersey, where Orson Welles located his adaptation. The Clinton/Trump election is fast approaching and Meena is chasing a story concerning a woman who claims to have been ‘abandoned’ as a result of Welles’ broadcast. Instead, she uncovers evidence of news articles being faked to further political aims – and to generate considerable income. Writer Isley Lynn is making an important point here. If hearts and minds can be so easily manipulated in the name of entertainment, then the same techniques can be (and are being) used for more nefarious purposes.

Simply but effectively staged, and convincingly acted by Jess Mabel Jones, Matthew Wells, Julian Spooner and Amalia Vitale, The War of the Worlds is one of those productions that prompts plenty of conversation afterwards. Those expecting a straight rerun of the Mercury Theatre’s transmission will be suprised and possibly even disappointed by this – it’s an altogether slipperier and more labyrinthine beast than its progenitor – but it makes its points eloquently and is well worth your time and money.

And you’ll be discussing it for hours.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

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Skin a Cat

05/08/18

Assembly Rooms, George Street, Edinburgh

Vaginismus. It’s not an obvious topic for a play. But that’s exactly the point of Isley Lynn’s Skin a Cat: despite affecting an estimated 1 in 200 women, vaginismus is rarely talked about. In an age where we can casually acknowledge scores of lovers, where we can – at last – be open about our sexual orientation and gender identity,  vaginismus is one of the last remaining taboos.

So what is it? In short, vaginismus is an involuntary contraction of the muscles around the opening of the vagina, which makes sexual intercourse painful or impossible. And, in Alana (Lydia Larson)’s case, as she gets into bed with a boy at a party, this results in a panic attack that leaves her short of oxygen and fitting. Not the most auspicious way to start off her sex life.

Despite – and sometimes because of – the awkwardness of the subject matter, this is a very funny piece, engagingly performed by a trio of actors. Lydia Larson, in the central role, is mesmerising, actually: uneasy and vulnerable, yet lively and confident; clever and articulate, but unable to give voice to her deepest concern. This is a nuanced performance, as naked and raw as the flesh-coloured costume that leaves her secrets exposed. It’s impossible not to care.

Larson is joined on stage by Joe Eyre and Libby Rodliffe, who play all of the supporting roles: Alana’s boyfriends and lovers; her mother, friends – and gynaecologist. They slip effortlessly between characters, bringing Alana’s sexual odyssey to life, adding light to the shade and ensuring this piece is entertaining as well as enlightening.

Blythe Stewart’s direction works well. The bed looms large, centre stage throughout – an unavoidable presence marking Alana’s every experience or encounter. Rodliffe and Eyre are positioned either side of it, subtle shadows of angel/devil emerging as they speak through microphones. The sex scenes – and there are a lot of them – are nicely done, excruciating for Alana, of course, but not for the audience: graphic but never gratuitous.

This is an interesting, intimate depiction of an important subject, and definitely worth taking the time to see.

4 stars

Susan Singfield