Traverse Breakfast Plays: Tomorrow
4 stars ****
Traverse Theatre (Venue 15)
THE ANNUAL Traverse Breakfast Plays season, staged during the Fringe, has become one of the key incubators for brand new writing in Scottish theatre, providing raw material for fully-staged productions throughout the year. Audiences turn up at 9 am, receive a bacon (or egg) roll and a cuppa, and munch their way contentedly through a script-in-hand reading of a new 45-minute play, often featuring an exceptionally high-powered cast.
This year, the season has been designed to emphasise the Traverse’s current network of international links, offering just one play by a Scottish-based writer, and others from China, Ukraine, Egypt, Turkey and Quebec; the same plays will be repeated this week. Faced with the Traverse’s chosen theme of Tomorrow, though, writers generally seem either distressed by it, or inclined to ignore it altogether.
One of the most satisfying plays of the six, for example, is Scottish playwright Linda McLean’s CTRL Z, a brilliantly taut, sound-driven family drama, with plenty of hard-edged humour, about a mother, father and daughter desperately trying to flee into the happy past, as they drive towards the hospital where the son of the family lies close to death. It was given a terrific performance, last week, by a cast led by Lorraine McIntosh and Jimmy Chisholm, with beat-boxer Ball-Zee providing the sound, and Laurie Sansom of the National Theatre of Scotland in the director’s chair; but its only view of the future is that it may well be a lot less fortunate than the present.
Nick Rongjun Yu’s How Could You Slap A Girl? offers a strange, muted dystopian vision of an encounter on a Chinese city street between a 21st century siren of a weeping girl and two men out thieving, for bafflingly complex reasons; This Elephant Speaks Ukrainian, by Natalia Vorozhbyt, is set in the present, in a country where relationships are troubled and disrupted by war. And from Egypt and Turkey, Laila Soliman and Berkun Oya bring strong women’s voices full of foreboding as well as wit and sexual energy, from societies where conflict is intensifying, and freedom closing down.
It’s really only the final play, though – Francois Archambault’s Walt Disney Project, beautifully directed by the Traverse’s Orla O’Loughlin – that gets to grips with the possible politics of future-making, in a world threatened by climate change and social chaos. In this desperate, funny and thought-provoking fantasy, four Quebec independence activists plot to kidnap the cryogenically-preserved body of Walt Disney, and to bring him back to life to put into practice his original EPCOT project for an ideal future city; and with Benny Young acting up a storm as the revived version of Walt, Archambault’s play brings the season to a rousing conclusion, not deep, but somehow strangely believable, as science leads us into the world of the infinitely renewable self.