Morning – Traverse until Aug 19th 3 stars
Mark Thomas: Bravo Figaro! - Traverse until Aug 26th, 5 stars And No More Shall we Part – Traverse until Aug 26th, 4 stars The Letter of Last Resort / Good With People – Traverse until Aug 26th, 4 stars Simon Stephens last big play, Punk Rock, looked at how a bullied sixth-former can strike back at his class-mates with a loaded gun. His new piece, Morning, devised with and written for the Lyric, Hammersmith's Young Company, goes even further. Stephanie's mother is dying and her best friend Cat is leaving town for university. Stephanie takes what she wants, has little regard for right or wrong, and kills the things she loves even as she clings to them. Whether Stephanie is just a spoilt brat, or this is a cry for help, the end result seems shockingly inconsequential to her world view. Morning is like an episode of Skins rewritten as an early novel by Ian McEwan. Stylistically, Sean Holmes' production takes things beyond the play's ice-cool exchanges and discomforting denouement via an open staging, microphones and live laptop-generated soundtrack. The combination of all this makes for a troublingly nihilistic hour, in which action and consequence are amoral abstractions which Stephanie simply has no concept of. Her final words are “There is no hope.” Coming from one so young, it sounds chillingly depressing. Mark Thomas' new show, Bravo Figaro!, on the other hand, is vital emotional viewing. Thomas goes beyond his stand-up roots to relate a moving and at times very funny account of his relationship with his father who contracted a degenerative illness. It's initially easy to feel sympathy with the unreconstructed builder and self-educated opera fan Thomas grew up beside, especially as we hear recordings of his weak, raspy voice. Yet there are other, less pleasant sides to the man which Thomas doesn't flinch from. Even so, flanked by a large photograph of his old man taken during more robust years, Thomas, with the aid of Traverse associate director Hamish Pirie, crafts an elegy that still manages to get sly digs in at class, the family and Jimmy Carr. As for opera, even as Thomas forms an unholy alliance with the Royal Opera House, the art-form remains “panto for posh people.” Like many people, Thomas left it too late to reconcile himself with his parents. In creating a work of art out of that mix of love and hate, Thomas has delivered the best epitaph he can for someone who was clearly a difficult man. As Thomas says himself, real goodbyes are messy. This one, like Rossini, is a work of honest beauty. Intimations of mortality are also at the heart of And No More Shall We Part, Australian writer Tom Holloway's close-up look at an ageing couple in crisis and their responses to serious illness. Don and Pam are happy together, or they were until they were forced to come to terms with the fact that one of them might not be around much longer. Over seventy-five painstakingly observed minutes on a barely-lit revolving stage, we rewind from what might be their final night to all the little rituals leading up to it. An ordinary supper is imbued with weighty significance beyond the mundane. Bill Don's leaky memory is caught out again and again by Dearbhla Molloy's Pam regarding all the silly, significant moments they've shared. As Don, Bill Paterson imbues James Macdonald's slow, stately production for Hampstead Theatre with much of its quietly befuddled humour. These, along with Christopher Shutt's haunting sound design, make the sudden flashes of anger all the more shocking, and when Dearbhla Molloy as Pam howls for dear life as the couple hug, it's a devastating moment in a moving play of shared experiences that many in the opening night audience were clearly touched by. This year's Traverse Theatre production is a double bill by two of the theatre's international alumni, David Greig and David Harrower. Both Greig's The Letter of Last Resort, and Harrower's Good With People, look at the responses to putting nuclear bases on British – and more specifically in Harrower's piece – Scottish, soil. The Letter of Last Resort finds a newly installed female prime minister staying up late attempting to pen a letter to the families of soldiers killed in action. The mandarin who arrives at her door has more pressing matters to hand, however. Together, the ex-activist PM and her advisor role-play the consequences if the unthinkable happened In Nicholas Kent's production, first seen at the Tricycle, Belinda Lang and Simon Chandler run the gauntlet in an elegant and intelligent comedy of ideas, in which the absence of Radio 4 really does mark the end of the world. There's a dark erotic tension at the heart of Good With People, in which prodigal Evan returns to the Helensburgh he left seven years earlier. He ends up staying in a hotel run by Helen, the mother of the boy Evan and his navy brat pals humiliated when still school-boys. A near mythical quality pervades George Perrin's brooding production, originally seen at Oran Mor in co-production with Paines Plough.When Evan and Helen dance, it's as if they've become intoxicated by some strange spell. Where before they were enemies, in the morning there's a kind of unity that suggests old wounds have healed.
The Herald, August 7th 2012 ends