JOYCE MCMILLAN on WRITE HERE! (Version 2) at the Traverse theatre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman 26.10.13.
4 stars ****
GIVEN THE TRAVERSE’S commmitment to work with no fewer than 50 new writers, to mark its golden anniversary year, it’s perhaps not surprising that this year’s Write Here! autumn festival of readings and works-in-progress seems super-charged with energy and invention.
It’s still something of a culture-shock, though, to walk into a theatre building so stuffed with playwrights that their words are literally spilling onto the walls, and out of the air. There are little, fragmentary “hidden plays” lurking in the lift, on toilet walls, on the foyer mirrors. And if you acquire a set of headphones from a table in the bar, you can listen to another 19 small audio plays – including a superb foyer piece called Noise, by Alison Carr – while you walk round the powerful bar exhibition of photographic portraits of the playwrights.
And then there are the live theatre performances; evening readings of new plays by established writers like Stef Smith and Morna Pearson, and lunchtime double-bills of 25-minute plays by the Traverse 50, all performed script-in-hand by a terrific team of actors, including John Bett, Lesley Hart, David Ireland, Kathryn Howden, and Gabriel Quigley. Among the lunchtime highlights, so far, is Robert Dawson Scott’s powerful, understated Assessment, about the next terrible, logical step for a society that values money above life itself, and regards people on benefits and pensions as nothing but a burden.
And there’s a strong sense of a dystopian future, too, in the triple bill of plays presented in Traverse One as the culmination of the week, with a final show tonight. In Strictly, by Ellie Stewart, an elderly couple, beautifully played by John Bett and Kath Howden, try to obey government instructions after a nuclear holocaust. In Lachlan Philpott’s chill and gripping monologue, In 3D, Lesley Hart is a young schoolteacher haunted by the strange eyes and stories of a little boy who seems to have more than mortal knowledge. And In Spoiling, by John McCann, Gabriel Quigley gives a bravura performance as a heavily pregnant Scottish Foreign Secretary preparing to give a speech at her first formal meeting with her UK counterpart since Scotland voted to become independent; with David Ireland as a harassed civil servant sent to mind her, in a 25-minute play that reels from fierce political satire to wild, surreal poetry, and then – with a cackle of wicked, energising laughter – reels straight back again.