Sunday, 21 June 2015

The Driver's Seat

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

When a young woman about to go on holiday finally reaches the end of her tether, her largely male colleagues indulge her, only laughing at her seemingly highly-strung antics once she's out of sight. So it goes for Lise, the enigmatic heroine of Muriel Spark's 1970 novella, a chronicle of a death foretold brought to life here in Laurie Sansom's adaptation for his own National Theatre of Scotland production.

Clad in vividly clashing candy-stripes as she takes a plane to an un-named European city, Morven Christie's Lise is forever in transit and in search of her own soul more than the potentially dangerous liaisons she never quite embarks on. As her movements are forensically mapped out and dissected by those left in her wake, an elusive, barely there portrait emerges, not just of Lise, but of a psychologically and sexually repressed society barely coping with its apparent new liberties.

All this is is played out by Sansom's cast of seven with cross-cutting fluidity on Ana Ines Jabares Pita's ever-changing set, which uses live filming to move between time and place with the fast-paced dexterity of an ice-cool prime time thriller. The mood is enhanced by Philip Pinsky's understated score, which is as much a product of its time as the story itself.

With Lise surrounded by the voguishly alternative post-1960s hangovers of macrobiotics, student protests and hippies dancing in the department store music section, an ever-prevailing misogyny drives every predatory male Lise brushes up against, as they take advantage of the era's touchy-feeliness even as they are confused and repelled by it. There is too a kind of trickle-down existential ennui which has left Lise and her generation disaffected and left with “the lack of an absence,” as she puts it.

There is strong support here from the likes of Ryan Fletcher, Gabriel Quigley and Michael Thomson, but it is the steely, volatile and self-destructively manipulative presence of Lise as brought to life so devastatingly by Christie that they pivot around in an alluringly elliptical study of self-invention and everyday madness.

The Herald, June 22nd 2015

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