Skip to main content

The Breathing House

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow
Three Stars

A tale of two cities is at the heart of Peter Arnott’s Edinburgh-set Victorian gothic, revived here by Mark Thomson in his production performed by the RCS’s final year BA Acting students. Like Twin Peaks scripted by Robert Louis Stevenson, Arnott recognises Auld Reekie as a Jekyll and Hyde city, with the Old Town’s lower depths shielding a dark underbelly from those occupying its seemingly respectable facade.

It is the seamier side that appeals to Gilbert, who farms his servant mistress Agnes out to a place of ill repute to protect his reputation while seeking cheap thrills wherever he can. Cloon is a more liberal-minded fetishist, taking pictures of working women living in the gutter and falling for his own servant Hannah, who has secrets of her own.

From this erupts a plague of false piety and hypocrisy in the face of class division, sexual abuse and self-destructive pleasure-seeking. Parallels with modern day Edinburgh and any other city where money talks are plain to see.

Thomson weaves all this into a slow-burning concoction that moves its cast between scenes by way of screens done out like photographic slides that slowly but surely give the big picture of moral bankruptcy. This is seen best in Michael Monroe’s portrayal of Gilbert as the sort of entitled toff Edinburgh New Town was built for. Paul Gorman’s Cloon is equally recognisable.

It is the women, however, who suffer most, be it Leah Byrne’s brutalised Agnes, Cloon’s naive wife Elizabeth, played by Jennifer Hartland, or Sorcha Kennedy’s god-fearing Rachel. But the play’s conscience comes from Rebecca Wilkie’s moving performance as Hannah, who Wilkie gives a sense of quiet strength and gravitas beyond her hardships. As Hannah eventually finds redemption of sorts, there is hope, it seems, beyond the degradations a socially divided world brings with it.

The Herald, October 31st 2018 

Ends


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Kieran Hurley – Mouthpiece

Things have changed since Kieran Hurley first began writing the play that would become Mouthpiece, which opens at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh this weekend. At the time, Hurley was, in his own words, “quite new on the scene.” As a writer and performer, he had already scored hits with Beats and Chalk Farm, two pieces that put him on the map with a new generation of theatre-makers steeped in an equally new wave of grassroots opposition that drew from the iconography of revolutions past. Where Beats looked at the politicisation of 1990s club culture, Chalk Farm, co-written with AJ Taudevin, focused on a teenage boy caught up in the 2011 London riots.
More plays followed. Some, like Heads Up used the same solo story-telling aesthetic to look at an everyday apocalypse. More recently, Square Go, written with Gary McNair, dissected toxic masculinity through a school playground fight.
All the while as Hurley developed as a writer, from new kid on the block to established provocateur, this…

Suzy Glass – Message from the Skies

Freedom of movement matters to Suzy Glass, the arts and events producer currently overseeing the second edition of Message from the Skies.This animated literary derive around the city forms part of this year’s Edinburgh’s Hogmanay programme, and runs right through till Burns’ Night. Glass’ concerns are inherent in the event itself, which has commissioned six writers from different disciplines and experiences to each pen a love letter to Europe. Each writer has then paired up with a composer and visual artist or film-maker, with the results of each collaboration projected in monumental fashion on the walls of one of half a dozen of the capital’s most iconic buildings.
With venues stretching from the south side of Edinburgh to Leith, and with one city centre stop requiring a walk up Calton Hill, there is considerable legwork required to complete the circuit. It shouldn’t be considered a race, however, and audiences are free to move between venues at their leisure, visiting each site on d…

Rob Drummond – The Mack

Rob Drummond was at home in England when he looked at the news feed on his phone, and saw a post about the fire at Glasgow School of Art. It was June 2018, and the writer and performer behind such hits as Grain in the Blood, Bullet Catch and Our Fathers initially presumed the post was to mark the fourth anniversary of the 2014 blaze in GSA’s Mackintosh Building, which was undergoing a major restoration after much of it was destroyed.
As it turned out, the news was far worse, as reports of a second fire were beamed across the world. As someone who had taken Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s iconic construction for granted while living in Glasgow, Drummond was as stunned as anyone else with even a passing relationship with the Mack.
While emotions continue to run high in response to the disaster, Drummond channelled his thoughts on all this into what he does best. The result is The Mack, a new play that forms part of Oran Mor’s A Play, A Pie and a Pint lunchtime theatre season in Glasgow prior …