Sunday, 7 August 2016

Interiors / The Destroyed Room

Royal Lyceum Theatre
Five stars

When Matthew Lenton's Glasgow-based Vanishing Point theatre company first presented Interiors in 2009, this close-up meditation on human behaviour behind closed doors put the company on the international touring map in a way that became a benchmark for how expansive home-grown theatre can be. Seven years on, seeing it back to back in an Edinburgh International Festival double bill with the company's's more recent construction, The Destroyed Room, first seen earlier this year, is a chance for long-term VP watchers and novices alike to reflect on the umbilical link between the two pieces.

In Interiors, the audience peer through the windows of a small house on the longest night of the year in the bleakest of mid-winters. Inside, an annual dinner party held by an older man and his grand-daughter is being prepared to celebrate the move from darkness into light. As the guests arrive, expectation and social politesse give way to a set of everyday exchanges between friends, lovers and strangers no-one will ever see again that will add up to make it one more night to remember.

In a set-up that sounds somewhere between Alan Ayckbourn and Abigail's Party, the action is seen but not heard, with the only words spoken being those by an un-named young woman who becomes spectral narrator, betrayer of secrets and the play's heart. Played by Elicia Daly, this ushers in a mix of pathos and comic business aplenty from Lenton's cast of eight, who navigate Kai Fischer's glass-fronted set onto which Finn Ross' projections are beamed.

After so many years since its inception, the emotional weight of the show has grown with an experience that heightens its essence of life, love, longing and loss, and where, accompanied by the meditative langour of Alasdair Macrae's piano-led score, the world keeps on turning no matter what.

This is the case too in The Destroyed Room, where a similar social gathering takes place in a seemingly verite situation, as actors Daly, Pauline Goldsmith and Barnaby Power take the stage in what looks like an open-ended late-night TV chat show. Overseen by two cameras that project their every utterance in close-up on a screen above, the trio embark on a moral maze of a discussion that might well have fuelled the dinner table banter in Interiors. Here, however, the audience are invited to observe the

chattering classes from the inside, even as the low rumble that gradually permeates the four walls of the theatre seems to suggest the world is collapsing beyond them.

As things take a calculated lurch into real life, what follows beyond the wine-fuelled sparring is the ultimate guilt trip in a wilfully provocative work which by turns startles and discomforts in a way that durational live art might. In a more formal theatrical context, however, The Destroyed Room is the more globally devastating flipside of Interiors. Both works book-end Vanishing Point's gimlet-eyed fascination with voyeurism in a way that proves as irresistible as it is compelling.

The Herald, August 8th 2016

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