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Tabula Rasa

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

Mid-way through this stark meditation on loss, and the care that's required in the lead up to that loss, actress Pauline Goldsmith stands in the swirl of strings conjured up by the twelve musicians who surround her. Up until then, her character has been a kind of hospital ward-bound raconteur, reeling off warts and all yarns concerning the funeral of a friend called Peter, and his descent into death that pre-ceded it. Dressed in scarlet in a world of black and white, Goldsmith's deadpan and unflinching monologues at moments recall the taboo-busting elaborations of 1970s comedian Dave Allen.

In this cross-artform collaboration between Vanishing Point theatre company and the Scottish Ensemble, however, Goldsmith's punchlines come through four pieces by Estonian composer Arvo Part. With the Scottish Ensemble playing them live, as Goldsmith stands among the twelve musicians, it looks like they might have been conjured from her own mind in order to offer some kind of solace. The image recalls The Singing Detective, the late Dennis Potter's fantasia on sickness and health awash with lip-synched hallucinations of cheap 1930s pop songs.

Conceived by Vanishing Point's director, Matthew Lenton, who has co-written his production with Goldsmith, Lenton's production isn't a play in any conventional sense. The loose-knit narrative that pivots around Peter is brought home by the presence of Sarah Short, who reads stories of snow to her unseen patient at the back of the stage. As Part's music is played, the bulk of the Ensemble step in and out of the light clad in medical scrubs. There's a mournful intensity to this, which, by dove-tailing between words and music, becomes a slow burning series of routines designed to purge everyday tragedies by offering pause for thought among the pain.

The Herald, November 16th 2017

ends

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