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The Unconquered

Byre Theatre, St Andrews
3 stars
Stellar Quines theatre company have built their reputation via a series of solid if at times unremarkable works engineered to put women artists at their centre. Playwright Torben Betts is known both for middle-brow pieces of domestic naturalism and more opaque work. Both parties, led by director Muriel Romanes, rip up the rule book in this world premiere of Betts’ latest play.

A young girl vents her anger on her reactionary and conformist parents inbetween losing herself in books. With the world collapsing outside their model home, she finally finds a cause big enough to transfer her energies to, and what begins as an exposition of workaday dysfunctionality lurches into a world of botched revolutions and invasion on both a personal and global level.

Over the course of a mere 80 minutes, The Unconquered stakes its claim as one of the oddest plays seen for some considerable time, despite its psychological apparel remaining deeply old-fashioned . Like Alfred Jarry’s Ubu dragged kicking and screaming into the future in a collaboration between Steven Berkoff and Sarah Kane, it pokes and prods you to give it some attention. Which, understandably enough, comes across at times as shrilly adolescent, and as at odds with its roots in a Somerset Maugham short story as could be imagined.

Romanes’ neo-expressionist production, heightened even further by Keith McIntyre’s comic-book design, is what makes the night, though. With a set of pasty-faced performances led by Pauline Turner’s Girl, supported by Kevin McMonagle and Jane Guernier as her parents and Nigel Barrett as the Soldier, here is a play not only in love with its own artifice, but which remains audacious enough to state the obvious in an at times startling fashion.

The Herald, February 19th 2007

ends

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