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The Breathing House

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
4 stars
It’s a foolhardy theatre company that crams a full-length contemporary
epic with a cast of fifteen into the Tron’s Changing House studio space
with zero budget and expects not to come a cropper. Yet, by getting
creative and employing a refreshingly twenty-first century Poor Theatre
aesthetic to Peter Arnott’s 2003 tale of two cities set in nineteenth
century Edinburgh, Bill Wright’s boldy named shoestring outfit,
Rekindle Theatre, have achieved exactly that.

Dividing its time between New Town drawing rooms where cross-class
indiscretions are silently indulged, and old town flop-houses where
gentlemen go slumming for rough trade, Arnott’s play is a masterly
study of upstairs/downstairs hypocrisy. The old-fashioned tripod camera
that sits at the centre of a bare stage at its start will eventually
expose all of this, belonging as it does to the widowed Cloon, who
takes pictures of women at work even as he falls for his servant. His
friend Chanterelle, meanwhile, is a thrill-seeking dandy who’d rather
indulge his desires in secret. As ever, it’s the women you fear for
most.

Wright has taken what is essentially a moral tale and stripped it bare.
When not onstage, actors sit in the front row, their presence
suggesting they are silent witnesses to the litany of abuse and disease
playing out before them. Seeing the play in close-up, the prevailingly
still gloom that gives the production much of its snarling power also
lends things an intimacy beyond the politics. Accompanied by Rudi de
Groote’s live score played simply on piano and cello, Wright and co
display an impressively sharp use of stagecraft that here at least,
make an already big play even bigger.

The Herald, January 28th 2011

ends

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