- Lorna Irvine
- 22 August 2019
Complex and gripping drama about whose story is allowed to be told
Kieran Hurley's play about artistic exploitation and the legacy of family dysfunction is as knotty and salty as a pretzel, even going as far as acknowledging its own meta narratives during the halfway point.
Libby (Shauna MacDonald) is a middle-class writer in her forties who believes her creative ship has sailed, and has taken to drink like her own alcoholic mother. As she contemplates suicide through jumping off the edge of Salisbury Crags, an unlikely guardian angel in the shape of gangly working -class teen, Declan (Angus Taylor) rescues her. A tentative friendship forms, as they bond over art: Declan has a flair for bold illustrations, and Libby opens his eyes to the wonders of art galleries, which were seemingly off-limits to him before. Two factions of Edinburgh thus converge.
However, if this seems like Pygmalion in reverse, Hurley ensures that there is nothing so prosaic. Every so often, MacDonald addresses the audience out of character, effectively putting the play on pause, while deconstructing the structure of classic playwright's devices, such as set-up and conflict.Indeed, Hurley toys with audience expectations throughout, creating a remove when the narrative becomes too sentimental, or heightened. He acknowledges his own tendencies towards ruminating on politics and notions of authenticity, while undercutting middle -class tastes- even the Traverse Theatre itself is described in grand terms.
Libby's monologue about falling from favour with tastemakers is recognisable to many artists, but is countered by Declan's more practical concerns around getting through the day without experiencing another beating from his mum's partner Gary.
Ultimately, this disparity in lifestyles, and education, is what causes a chasm between the two. As Libby discards Declan, yet starts to rely on his voice to frame her new show, he decides that he will not be silenced any longer, and heads to the press night to address his betrayal.
Orla O'Loughlin directs the superb MacDonald and Taylor with the anthemic fury of an indie floor-filler. It's controversial, and occasionally self-indulgent, but with enough wit, heart and hooks to get lost in. Theatre is intended for 'common people', after all.
Traverse, until 25 Aug, times vary, £15–£21 (£5–£15.50).