JOYCE MCMILLAN on WRITE HERE! 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 the foyer mirrors, on toilet walls, and even in the paper towel dispenser. And if you acquire a pair 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, brilliantly performed by Gabriel Quigley – while you walk round the powerful bar exhibition of photographic portraits of the playwrights.
And then there are the live performances, downstairs in Traverse Two; evening readings of new plays by established writers like Stef Smith and Morna Pearson, a weekend triple-bill of brand new work, 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 highlights, so far, is Robert Dawson Scott’s powerful, understated Assessment, about the next logical step in a society that values money above life itself, and regards people on benefits – even pensioners who have contributed all their lives – as nothing but a burden; what’s supremely chilling is Dawson Scott’s sharp understanding of how easily the current language of privatised, outsourced official assessment would lend itself to such a move. There’s a powerful sense of a dystopian future, too, in Denise Keane’s Kingdom Of Me – in which a pregnant woman in London in 2016 experiences chilling premonitions of a British society breaking down into savage tribal conflict – and Alison Carr’s extreme comedy Fat Alice, in which the obesity crisis suddenly and literally intrudes into the new love-nest of an adulterous couple. The new generation of Traverse playwrights are not offering us a rosy vision of the coming century, in other words; but they are demonstrating that if anything can brighten our prospects, it’s this kind of explosion of creativity, naming and describing the tragi-comic crises we face, and beginning to imagine new responses to them.