Edinburgh 2020 is officially over but, being online this year, some material lives on. Although the Traverse Theatre is badged as part of the official festival, its bias towards new writing makes it more of a fit with the Fringe. And new writing is certainly the focus of its Breakfast Plays which normally play at the venue throughout the Festival while the audience enjoy a bacon roll and a cup of tea. This year, like so much else, the goodies will have to be self-provided but the pieces are still available. I had already listened to and reviewed the first in the series, Contemporary Political Ethics (or, How To Cheat) by Jamie Cowan and was prompted by the quality of this to return for more. To access that first review, click here. And now on to the rest…..
The second play, Rabbit Catcher, could not be more different from the first. It is a tale steeped in Caledonian mythology featuring the recently dead and a Highland Devil who battle for supremacy of Ord Hill outside Inverness. Rebecca Martin’s subtly feminist script is steeped in atmosphere and the sound design by Oğuz Kaplangi unquestionably enhances the sense of wonder and dread that is inherent in the piece. The actors (Karen Fishwick, Reuben Joseph and Anna Russell- Martin) speak in portentous tones but have to narrate the more visual aspects which somewhat diminishes the impact. Compared with the first episode I found the piece to be lacking in clarity and I just didn’t connect with it. I think it would probably be a play better experienced late at night rather than first thing in the morning, so I’d advise fellow listeners to programme accordingly.
Doomsdays by Conor O’Loughlin takes the form of a thriller with a difference. Felix and Faye used to be members of a cult which was predicting the end of the world back in 2012 (21/12/2012 to be precise) – clearly it didn’t happen but the psychological effects on the pair have been profound, particularly as they have seen the world going to hell in a handcart. It’s now 2021 and the pair, wanting some sort of revenge, have tracked down the cult’s leader Senga who has transformed herself into an estate agent. Somehow, I found myself believing this rather implausible scenario given some strong performances (Helen Katamba, Robbie Jack and Laura Lovemore) and generally well-constructed dialogue although the arguments about belief and faith were probably overstated.
There’s more apocalyptic gloom in Matterhorn, though this time the end of the world as we know it has actually occurred. We are pitched into no less than three alternative realities all of which are centred on the same three characters played by Karen Fishwick, Helen Katamba and Laura Lovemore but in slightly differing circumstances. This is a play which requires intense concentration if you are going to follow the plot(s) and I’ll happily admit to getting lost; indeed the scenario reminded me of some of the worst excesses of certain Dr Who scripts where all you can do is go with the flow. Eventually I found that the real point of interest for me lay in the parallels which writer Amy Rhianne Milton draws with our present situation – a population lost and confused with no real leadership and an intense fear of the outsider whether that be a rampant disease or migrants. The chilling settings centred round a river from which the characters drag dead bodies and a cathedral which has become the only point of refuge; these are carefully realised in a magical soundscape from designer Kim Moore.
Last but not least (except in terms of length) is The Water Cooler by Uma Nada-Rajah. This begins prosaically enough with work colleagues Kai (Laura Lovemore) and M (Anna Russell-Martin) having a quick catch up in the staffroom at their workplace – although it turns out that it’s nothing quite as simple as this. Both are up for promotion but the Black Lives Matters protests may have seen to it that some positive discrimination has been utilised in making decisions by “her” – a third character who doesn’t actually appear. Both Kai and M have mixed feelings about the situation and it looks like the play is going to be an interesting dissection of office politics. Except that then everything becomes slightly unhinged as magic realism takes over the dynamic and, suddenly, we are all at sea – and I mean that in both senses. Although the dialogue is well-handled, I found this to be another perplexing piece which needs more work in honing its potential and that shifts ground too suddenly; perhaps there were hints earlier on in the piece that I missed.
I didn’t really feel that any of these four pieces lived up to the potential shown by the first I had previously listened to. However, it is highly commendable that the Traverse has put together any sort of programme at all this year and at least they have kept this particular tradition going. Hopefully by next August they can be back to normal and breaking out the bacon rolls once again.
The Breakfast Plays can all be accessed via the Traverse Festival website which continues past Edinburgh Festival’s official closing date. Click here
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