JOYCE MCMILLAN on NEW WORKS at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman 15.9.14.
3 stars ***
THE RIGHT TO DIE, corruption in high places, and the evolving relationship between humanity and machine: the themes are not small, in this year’s Royal Conservatoire of Scotland showcase of New Works, one-hour plays specially commissioned from three leading writers to display the talents of MA students in Classical And Contemporary Text.
The trilogy begins with a few bangs and a rattle, as Clare Duffy’s 1914 Machine roars towards take-off with the story of an early-20th century female aviator who completes a record-breaking cross-Channel flight, only to find herself near a country house where the Bloomsbury Group – or a bunch of bohemians very like them – are holding a supper party.
Despite some lively choreography by director Paul Brotherston, this part of the play is fairly excruciating, as the young cast prance around mimicking posh Edwardian accents, and adopting an arch tone which suggests they are sending something up, although it’s not clear what. Things improve, though, when we move forward in time, to witness an old man facing death in a world entirely wired to the web, where the distinction between human and machine begins to dissolve forever.
There’s far more guts, immediacy and drama, though, in Jo Clifford’s White Ted And The Right To Die, a tragic story of a young life destroyed by disease, told through the voice of a teddy-bear who dimly understands that while the family dog was spared much suffering at the end of his life, no such compassion will be extended to his human owner. White Ted is a fairly direct and sometimes relentless piece of right-to-die propaganda. Yet Clifford’s play is full of a kind of playful dramatic energy, and a hard-won magical realism and lyricism, that make it theatrically irresistible; and Jessica Aquila Cymerman’s strong and heartfelt production features some beautifully-shaped movement sequences, as well as a terrific double performance from Jess Thigpen and Amy Drummond as Ted’s suffering owner.
And then there’s Isabel Wright’s Blind Eye, a potentially fascinating short thriler about the web of corruption that links a modern British government to a high-powered PR company which helps major corporations put a positive spin on their human rights abuses. The problem is that in Wendy Turner’s production, the glamorous boss-class style of the show – all sky-high heels and knife-sharp cynical reparteee – effectively contradicts and confuses the radical message; although Clare Marcie turns in a passionate performance as Natalie, the young intern who, however ineffectually, is at least trying to bring this world of abuse to light.