JOYCE MCMILLAN on FAMILY VOICES and THE OLD LADY at the Roxy Art House, Edinburgh, and THE UMBILICAL CORD at Glasgow University Union, for The Scotsman 22.6.10
Family Voices 4 stars ****
The Old Lady 4 stars ****
The Umbilical Cord 3 stars ***
THEATRE OFTEN acts as an ultra-sensitive barometer of social change; so it’s worth noting that this past weekend marked the tenth anniversary of Gappad, the theatre company that draws on the talent of a new generation of Polish performers living and working in Scotland. Over the weekend, they presented a series of music sessions, exhibitions and shows at the Roxy Art House in Edinburgh; but the centrepiece was a spectacular 80-minute staging of Harold Pinter’s 1981 play Family Voices, performed in a reversed in-the-round staging in the Roxy’s main space. With the audience sitting clustered in the middle of the room, the six actors wandered, raced, ranged and raved along the aisles that form the four sides of the space, using the domestic light of a series of small, plush-coloured table-lamps to explore Pinter’s strange story of a man trapped in a rooming-house where all the inmates seem to belong to the same family, while his own parents wither with grief at his absence.
If Pinter’s story is partly desiged to expose aspects of English social structure, then this intensely expressionistic Polish staging shifts and blurs its emphasis; and sometimes, Iwona Glowinska’s production is so loud and kinetic that Pinter’s words are lost in the noise. But this Family Voices is an exciting, intensely theatrical show; and it’s to be hoped that it will soon resurface, at the Edinburgh Fringe or elsewhere. Gappad founder Agnieszka Bresler also appeared at the Roxy over the weekend, in her own thoughtful, touching, and exquisitely-performed 40-minute monologue Old Lady, a meditation on time, fertility and old age drawn from Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues and Samuel Beckett’s Rockabye, among other texts. And beyond the Gappad weekend, in Glasgow, Theatre Found presented an uneven but sometimes compelling Scottish premiere of Krystyna Kofka’s The Umbilical Cord, a recent Polish play remarkably similar to The Old Lady in its fierce obsession with the power of memory; and the compression of time into a single vivid moment, as men and women move towards their deaths.