Polly Frame

On the Exhale

22/08/18

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

During the madness that is the Edinburgh Fringe, it would be all too easy to overlook the delights being offered at the city’s established theatres. On the face of it, On The Exhale,  written by Martin Zimmerman and directed by Christopher Haydon, seems perfectly engineered for festival audiences. This powerful monologue, brilliantly delivered by Polly Frame, was written in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting of 2012. It’s a searing examination of the subject of gun control and, unexpectedly, it’s also about the compelling seduction that deadly weapons can exert upon those who use them.

Frame plays an academic in an American University. In the play’s opening moments, she talks about her steadily building paranoia at the thought of one of her more headstrong students suddenly deciding to walk into her study with a firearm tucked into his waistband. She mentions the cool, clinical steps she is taking in order to prepare herself for such an awful eventuality, about what she will do in such dire circumstances. But, when tragedy does decide to rear its ugly head, the danger comes from an entirely different quarter…

The nature of the unfolding story is so important that it would be impossible to chronicle it in any more detail without giving too much away. Suffice to say that there are some genuine surprises here, the story heading from its initial premise into entirely unexpected areas. Frame is a compelling narrator, her vulnerability enhanced by the spare setting, which has her pacing barefoot through a tangle of fluorescent light fittings as she talks, the potential danger of a misplaced step all too evident.

As she draws us steadily deeper into her confidence, I find myself virtually holding my breath, not wanting to miss a single detail of her heartbreaking story. This is a masterful piece of theatre and my only regret is that I didn’t find time to see it earlier in the month. It’s on for just a few more days, so do take the opportunity to catch this while you still can.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

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Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde

10/04/18

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

I’ll admit it: I’ve a soft spot for Victorian potboilers, the more sensational and melodramatic the better. And Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1884 novella – about a doctor experimenting with a serum that transforms him into another man, thus allowing him to indulge in  vices without fear of tarnishing his reputation – ticks all those boxes, whilst also managing to be a deliciously clever treatise on the duality of human nature, our public and our private selves.

So I’m excited to see this stage version, adapted by David Edgar and starring Phil Daniels in not one, but both of the eponymous roles. I like this single casting, by the way – it’s much more expressive of the story’s heart than a double act could ever be. And Daniels performs the role with aplomb, at first clearly delineating between the gentlemanly Jekyll and the seamy Hyde, before slowly merging the two together as the lines between them blur.

This production, directed by Kate Saxon, has an old-fashioned, naturalistic charm: it’s very wordy, with characters expounding theories in long, uninterrupted speeches – much like the source material, I suppose. But it works. What they’re saying is fascinating, and I’m more than happy to listen hard and concentrate when I’m in the theatre, especially if the story is this exciting, with murder and mayhem at every turn (although this is made considerably more difficult by the family sitting in front of us, who keep getting up to go the toilet, and whose mobile phone rings during the first transformation scene).

The set is a triumph – a two-storey feat of ingenuity, allowing three completely different rooms to be depicted with a simple slide and turn of scenery, as well as a convincing outside street. Rosie Abraham’s singing over the transitions is haunting and evocative, reinforcing the unsettling atmosphere.

The supporting cast are all very good – Polly Frame as Jekyll’s sister, Katherine, and Grace Hogg-Robinson as Annie are especially affecting – but this is Daniels’ play, and he owns the stage. Of course he does; he’s Phil Daniels; we know he’s got talent. I’m extra glad he’s so good in Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde because it means I can proudly show off to my friends, “I worked with him, you know” (okay, so it was way back in 1987, when I was fifteen, and I had a very small part in Screen Two’s Will You Love Me Tomorrow, and I had precisely zero scenes with him, but still…).

Check this out! It’s exactly as chilling and unnerving as it should be.

4 stars

Susan Singfield