A Play, A Pie and A Pint – Some Other Stars (Traverse: 15 – 19 March, ’16)

“Gripping until the very end”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

There was a real buzz at this, the opening performance of the first in the new season of A Play, A Pie and A Pint at the Traverse Theatre, as audience members of all ages filled the studio – an indicator of the wide appeal the programme has. Opening the batting order is Some Other Stars, which depicts honestly, beautifully and painfully, the journey travelled by a loving couple when one of them, for whatever reason, ends up in a coma.

Performed as two interweaving monologues, Clare Duffy’s script deftly covers a plethora of feelings and thoughts from both sides, from confusion and pain in the early days, through hope, helplessness, boredom and betrayal. The play begins in darkness, with a sizeable monologue from Ian (Martin McCormick) describing what’s going on in his head while in a vegetative state. The discomfort of the darkness and simplicity and repetition of his words work to set a deep and personal tone, drawing us into the obvious conflict of his physical incapability of communicating with his wife, Cath (Kristin Murray).

Once the action gets going it’s quite a pacy affair that is full of dramatic contrasts in perspective that interweave, each seamlessly making way for the next without ever getting bogged down on one idea. Cath’s opening speech is delivered very fast, which on one hand jars against the sensitive, human element of the production, while on the other very ably and stylishly communicates a headful of thoughts that aren’t able to form themselves into cohesive sentences before the next comes along. Perhaps a little too “theatrical” for me, but powerful all the same.

Both McCormick and Murray are very believable in their respective roles, with a command of emotion and tension that makes this play gripping until the very end. While not wholly believable in terms of chemistry as a couple, their energy, pace and variety of emotional intensity are evenly balanced, and that missing spark almost works in their favour in sections where the breakdown in their relationship becomes more apparent.

Yet while the acting is on whole very powerful, I wasn’t convinced by Jonathan Scott’s design which seemed too “artsy” against the very sensitive performance. The use of a hospital bed with a body constructed of plastic bottles and other flotsam certainly represented Ian’s apparent lifelessness, but to me detracted from the integrity of the emotion on display, especially when it was being interacted with. Some of the other design elements also seemed redundant – the table and dolls downstage and the gazebo-like structure didn’t add anything to the production, and I feel that a more stripped back approach, relying on the actors to do the work with their physicality would have aided to the rawness and fragility of the piece. There were moments of this towards the end of the production, where Cath, in desperation straddles her husband in his wheelchair in the hope to get him to feel, which were very moving and required no special effects. It’s a shame this technique was not used more often.

Overall, this is a simple yet moving exploration of a situation none of us ever hopes to be on either side of, presented with real human honesty. Compelling.

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 15 March)

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Smother (ZOO, 7 – 22 Aug : 18.40 : 55 mins)

“The choreography throughout is outstanding”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars

Smother is a dance piece that loosely covers the theme of relationships, in particular those among gay people. It’s not overtly “gay though”, and doesn’t lose itself in stereotypes, making it very accessible to a wider audience. What is more prominent is just how two people can meet, fall in love, and be affected by an affair, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

The choreography throughout is outstanding, from a full-on hip hop opening number, to more sensuous contemporary sections it explores the party lifestyle, expectation, friendship, infidelity and intimacy. There is a great balance between the big unison group numbers and the more emotive solos and duo sections, while one dancer’s frustration to find anybody to love is made all the more powerful by the constant ignoring of her plight of the performers who walk past her time and again.

Particular highlights include an example of the first awkward encounter in the bedroom getting tangled up in one’s clothes, through to the very emotive trio at the end of the piece, showing how a lover comes between the lead couple to drive them apart. Canon is used very effectively throughout the piece (with one dancer often doing the reverse of their partner), and is powerful enough to show similar thinking, but an ability to communicate it directly.

For a high octane dance piece, performed by a troupe of incredibly lithe and athletic young dancers, it’s also very mature. The overt sexual movements are kept to a minimum, while everyone stays, for the most part, fully clothed. The power comes from engagement between the dancers – their synchronicity (or otherwise) and proximity to one another is enough to show how close they are emotionally and sexually. It’s balanced, detailed and very relatable.

While it’s not quite as hip-hop throughout as the billing suggests (the music perhaps a stronger influence than the choreographic style), the dancers are just as talented at the fast pops and locks as they are with the leaps and lifts in the more contemporary sections. Speaking of the music, it’s a generally a very modern and young selection, at times very lyrically overt, perhaps to aid the narrative, but very effective all the same.

A very  impressive full length debut from 201 Dance Company.

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 15 August)