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Aalst

Tramway, Glasgow
4 stars
When an underclass couple slaughter their two children in a small town hotel room, the kneejerk reaction is to find them guilty as charged. Seated side by side in the cruel public glare, Cathy and Michael Delaney’s own lives are relentlessly poked and prodded in a manner that tests every liberal sensibility they’re in the presence of.

What unravels in Duncan Mclean’s English-language version of Pol Heyvaert and Dimitri Verhulst’s Flemish original is a brutal cycle of poverty, crime and abuse destined to repeat and repeat until it’s beaten out of existence. Over a punishingly intense 70 minute interrogation by an un-named Voice (provided by Gary Lewis), Cathy and Michael are in turns edgy, remorseful, merciless, indifferent, self-deluding, pathetic and manipulative, their twisted logic a bewildering justification for their crime.

Based on a true story, Heyvaert remains director for this co-production between the Belgian Victoria company, Tramway and the National Theatre of Scotland. As the self-destructive couple with no way out, Kate Dickie and David McKay give performances of restrained vigour, barely moving a muscle as they’re forced to tell their tale. Such control makes their delivery even more captivating. Even one raised voice would break the spell.

Such an approach was handled equally well during 2006 in Tone Clusters, a strikingly similar American play produced far more modestly by The Arches, but which ended up buried during the Edinburgh Fringe. This is not to take away from just how remarkable Aalst is. Yes, even on Heyvaert’s clinically bright set, behind which Das Pop’s foreboding underscore pulses things along, its ugly, painful and deeply, at times unbearably disturbing. That Cathy and Michael are so matter-of-factly unrepentant makes the initial knee-jerk judgement all the harder to justify.

The Herald, March 26th 2007

ends

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