JOYCE MCMILLAN on A SLOW AIR at the Palace Theatre, Kilmarnock, for The Scotsman 24.3.14.
4 stars ****
THERE’S NOTHING spectacular, or even superficially theatrical, about David Harrower’s superb 2011 play A Slow Air. On a dark stage, for 80 minutes, a middle-aged brother and sister stand apart, telling their story through intertwined monologues. The set, by Jessica Brettle, suggests three ordinary windows; the subtle music, by Daniel Padden, swells briefly between scenes, but often leaves the actors – Pauline Knowles and Lewis Howden, two of Scotland’s finest – to ply their trade against a background of searching silence.
Yet this latest Harrower play – now beginning a Borderline tour of Scotland that ends at the King’s, Edinburgh in May – delves so deeply into the texture of Scottish life today that it holds audiences enthralled. The brother, Atholl, is the boss of a small flooring company, living a suburban life in Houston, near Glasgow airport. Morna has had a more rackety life, and now works as a cleaner in posh Edinburgh houses; and after a family row, they have not spoken for 15 years.
Yet as the play unfolds the story of how they meet again, we begin to sense that its narrative structure is perfect, its subtle poetic depth strangely haunting. And by the end, we feel as if we have seen not only a rare and disturbing portrait of an often-ignored slice of middle Scotland, but some much deeper truth about the way we live now; about the threat of terror, about mortality and identity, and about the dark backbeat of political reaction which stalks western societies today, often hidden, yet both ominous and chilling.