JOYCE MCMILLAN on ON THE EDGE at Princes St. Gardens, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman 6.4.15. _____________________________________________________
3 stars ***
THE ANNUAL EASTER PLAY in Princes Street Gardens is becoming something of an Edinburgh institution; and not because it repeats the story of the passion in reassuringly familiar ways. Last year – thanks to playwright Rob Drummond – it set the story of the crucifixion against the disturbingly recognisable background of a country divided by a turbulent debate over independence; and this year, Scotsman writer Susan Mansfield has created a brand new two-hour play, for director Suzanner Lofthus’s 20-strong community company, in which we see the story from the perspective of eight relatively minor characters, “on the edge” of the tale.
So as the audience of almost 500 move around the gardens in four groups, we hear from David MacBeath as Longinus the Roman centurion, from Colin Wallace as Simon the Cyrene who helped carry the cross, from Elaine Palmer as Pilate’s wife Claudia, from an eloquent Lyzzie Dell as Martha the housework-bound sister of Lazarus, and from four others, plus a chorus of four more. And although the acting is not always quite strong enough to carry the power of the writing, Mansfield’s bold leaps of imagination and empathy produce some impressive moments of theatre, as ordinary people going about their business are stopped in their tracks by the presence of “this man Jesus”; and two teenage girls from Bethany – beautifully played by Fiona Binns and Emma Archibald – look up from their mobile phones to tell us how one of them died of a sudden illness, and truly and mysteriously, thank to Jesus the Nazarene, came back to life.