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How to Disappear

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Five stars

When Robert's benefits assessor from the Department of Work and Pensions takes a peek into his wardrobe mid-way through Morna Pearson's astonishing new play, to suggest she gets more than she bargained for is something of an under-statement. Such is the way of things in the worlds Pearson conjures up. On the one hand, Robert and his younger sister Isla have seemingly been abandoned, both by their father, who has gone AWOL at a weekend rave, and by a society represented by Jessica's overly-officious form.

Robert hasn't been out of his bed-room since Helen Daniels' death in daytime TV soap, Neighbours, an event so traumatic that he cocoons himself away, peeling off his skin and hair while a menagerie of exotic pets shed skins of their own. Isla has effectively taken charge of the collapsing household, but she too is barely keeping it together.

As told in Pearson's rich and gloriously unhinged Doric, this initially looks like a piece of tragi-comic grotesquerie that picks at the festering sore of the UK's wilful attempt at erasing society's most vulnerable. It is all that and more in Gareth Nicholls' beautifully realised production, in which there are moments of heartbreak for everyone. Owen Whitelaw's Robert and Kirsty Mackay's Isla are both clearly in pain, but it is Sally Reid's Jessica who turns out to be the most lost soul of all.

Pearson's already wild, pop culture saturated imagination has here been galvanised with a furious sense of everyday righteousness and compassion for those systematically squeezed out of the system. As Becky Minto's revolving set takes a lurch elsewhere, it is to suggest that, despite every calculated ideological ploy to erase an entire underclass, if you can only take the leap, the possibilities for other worlds are endless.

The Herald, December 11th 2017

ends

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