International Waters (Traverse: 30 March – 3 April ’16)

International Waters 1

Photos: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

“Almost edifying”

Editorial Rating:3 Stars Outstanding

You have to wonder. Fifty minutes into the heaving swell of International Waters when we’re all dramatically well and truly cast off, the fire alarm lights flash red and the theatre is evacuated. It has to be a Fire Exit production. And the prime minister announces that there will be no fire sale of the UK’s steel industry but it could still all go down the pan; which is pretty much where David Leddy’s new play takes us. It’s gut-churning with intent, from programme-as-origami downwards. This is theatre in the raw; its passage probably indigestible without great work by Becky Minto (Design), Nich Smith (Lighting) and Danny Krass (Sound).

For the U-bend see a cabin suite for the super-rich in the bowels of a super-tanker, complete with champagne buffet and karaoke machine. Cheaper accommodation is in assorted containers where you might be stacked next to a tiger or two. It is all rather make-do, rather urgent, for this is the last ship out of London where the banks have really, really, done their mucky worst. It’s safe to assume that the ATMs are empty and that the poor are on the streets and burning porsches. Still, if you have shedloads of ready money you can look good in white linen, enjoy the Moët, do a line of coke, and singalong to doomsday. Unfortunately it turns out that Sarah, Ben, Sophia, and Arian are in the Caliban suite for a less than delightful reason and that their ‘escape’ will end wretchedly. There’s no mage on the bridge to save them or to get them away from each other’s throats … or crotches.

International Waters 2

Down below, gripped by burning cabin fever and flushing itself out, is the fabled 1%: powerful and greedy, vulnerable and unhappy. Sarah (Claire Dargo), Ben (Robin Laing), Sophia (Selina Boyack), and Arian (Lesley Hart) go at it with astonishing abandon, pulling each other’s chains – just to stay with the scatological – and soiling themselves and their values in the process. It’s abject, messy, and ridiculous and yet the acutely angled and allusive content is almost edifying.

Leddy unships a bulk load of issues: rogue algorithms, flagrant wealth, economic migrants, drowned refugees; the paranoid survivalist versus the self-obsessed, #Blessed; Twitter storms, Old Testament retribution and the gospel strains of New Testament promise. This is one crowded ark of a stage, freighted with ideas, that spills more than it holds, deliberately upset by intemperate behaviour, bad language, and scary discordant sound. If the play is dead in the water at its conclusion, it’s not rudderless or overblown, but simply exhausted.

FYI. The show continued after the fire alarm, which says a lot about the quality of the performance and the unlikely integrity of the piece. It is preposterous and explicitly farcical, yet Leddy goes in behind the theatrical facade. He says (see programme note) that he’s also after the romantic sublime. Well, here’s Adele on a comparable course from Rolling in the Deep: “Go ‘head and sell me out and I’ll lay your shit bare.” Nice!




Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 30 March)

Go to International Waters at the Traverse and at Fire Exit .

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‘Long Live The Little Knife’ (Citizens, Glasgow: 24 – 28 Feb.’15)

Neil McCormack as Jim Wendy Seager as Liz Photo: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Neil McCormack as Jim Wendy Saeger as Liz. Photo: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan


“Exquisite performances”

Editorial Rating: 2 Stars Outstanding

nb. Long Live The Litte Knife is now on tour and plays at the Traverse  this Saturday, March 7, at 7.30pm.

This is a show about having balls, which might explain our curious ‘2* Outstanding’ rating, but it doesn’t. That’s down to great acting.

Ballsy, I maintain. Both literally – the “little knife” of the title is the one used to emasculate castratos – and figuratively, too. So here’s a ballsy statement of my own: despite playwright David Leddy’s reputation, despite compelling and committed acting, and despite the plaudits heaped on the show during its run at the Edinburgh Fringe … it isn’t actually very good.

There’s just far, far too much packed in. The play’s themes include love, loss, art, infertility, deception, class, and modern slavery – all tackled at breakneck pace, with alternating comic and tragic tones. At the very end, Leddy brings out the darkest topic of all – one that’s proved more topical than he can possibly have feared when he penned the script back in 2013. But by that point, and perhaps to my shame, I was so overloaded that I couldn’t bring myself to care.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s fine for a script to seem anarchic, as long as there’s something constant threaded through it, something you can recognise and grab onto. The problem with Little Knife is that there’s no central premise – unless you count a foggy concept that things aren’t ever what they seem. The principal characters are confidence tricksters, and the script is pulling a kind of trick of its own: persuading us that, because we’re feeling slightly confused, there must be something deep going on.

But I’m sorry, there isn’t. And that’s a big shame – because there are the outlines of some thought-provoking themes visible through the murk. At one point, it seems that Leddy’s about to deconstruct the whole concept of verbatim theatre, an exercise which could be both entertaining and genuinely profound. But it goes nowhere: there’s some off-the-wall dialogue between an actor and a techie, then the theme is quietly dropped, never to be discussed again.

The avant-garde clichés are abundant – that on-stage techie, actors who announce that they’re actors, stage directions read aloud – and there’s an over-worked set-up for a final flourish, which on the night I attended was thoroughly ruined by a glowing fire-exit sign. As I write this, they’re tweeting that they bought all their equipment from a builder’s yard. So?

Neil McCormack as Jim Wendy Seager as Liz Photo: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Neil McCormack as Jim Wendy Saeger as Liz.                                   Photo: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

What redeems the show, however, are exquisite performances from Wendy Saeger and Neil McCormack, who acquit themselves with considerable distinction in extremely challenging roles. Out of character, they’re friendly and welcoming; once the story begins, they keep the energy high as events become more and more absurd. And on the few occasions they’re allowed a little time, they show intense sensitivity, dropping the mood in an instant as the pain in their past is revealed.

Saeger is particularly powerful when her character recalls a dying son; McCormack, meanwhile, endures a wince-inducing crux scene, which very few actors could make so horribly real. It’s worth watching the background, too, as their reactions to events are often as compelling as the cavorting in centre-stage. So it’s five stars for them – but alas, even stellar performances can’t counteract a thoroughly frustrating and self-indulgent script.



Reviewer: Richard Stamp (Seen 25 February)

Go to Fire Exit here (!).

Visit the Traverse archive.