JOYCE MCMILLAN on BLOODY TRAMS – A RAPID RESPONSE at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman 22.3.14.
4 stars ****
IN MOMENTS of crisis, theatre often rediscovers its rare ability to speak truth to power. And although the story of Edinburgh’s trams often seems not so much a crisis as a slow-burning tragi-comedy of errors, director Joe Douglas and his team unleash a powerful tidal-wave of pent-up energy and emotion, with this fine instant-response show about Edinburgh’s experience of the tram construction project, devised at short notice to fill a sudden gap in the Traverse 2 schedule.
Created by Douglas with actors Nicola Roy and Jonathan Holt, musician David Paul Jones, and dozens of of vox-pop interviewees and public figures whose verbatim comments and speeches – relayed to the actors via mobile phone earpieces – form the text, Bloody Trams begins on a comic note, with Edinburgh voices cracking their usual jokes about the shambles surrounding the project.
As the story develops, though, it shades into serious questioning of the management problems that turned the project into an international laughing-stock, and – towards the end – into tragedy, as it considers the losses suffered by some of those whose businesses were destroyed by interminable years of tram works. The darkness of the show’s final mood is striking, as Nicola Roy re-reads a 1952 letter to the Scotsman, predicting that the city will one day pay dearly for the destruction of its old tram network. Yet with David Paul Jones’s witty, eclectic score rippling along in support, this clever and well-made show-plus-discussion is always thought-provoking, and sometimes surprisingly beautiful; and it needs to be seen more widely by Edinburgh audiences, after its short Traverse run this week.