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Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Three stars

Everybody can be prone to putting their life in boxes. Magda, the elderly Croatian émigré in Sylvia Dow’s new hour-long play, takes such a notion to extremes in a show that lays bare the emotional detritus we gather up along life’s way, using those boxes as a fortress of self-protection as we go. At some point, however, there has to be a clear-out. In Magda’s case it takes an intervention from social worker Jackie to open the door to a new-ish kind of life. This involves a reunion with Magda’s estranged daughter Chrissie, and above all a casting out of the figure of her dead mother, an opera singer who was killed in the Balkan war.

All of this is woven into a handsome looking and heart-felt production by Muriel Romanes for her and Dow’s new Sylvian Productions company. At its centre is a moving central performance from Carol Ann Crawford as Magda, who is given ample support by Romana Abercrombie as Chrissie, Pauline Lockhart as Jackie and a fine-voiced Rosemary Nairne as Magda’s lost mother. There is magic here too by way of an ingenious set of boxes designed by John and Jeanine Byrne, which house beautifully constructed miniatures of the clutter packing Magda’s mind. A baby grand piano, a war-scarred landscape and scattered chairs are all in the mix.

Despite such care and attention to details like this, at the moment it feels like Magda’s transformation happens so rapidly that Dow’s play is more of a well-drawn sketch of a show in need of going much deeper below the surface. There is much to praise what there is right now, however, in what is effectively a stylised tone poem that cuts to the chase in a story that highlights an illness rarely put under the spotlight.

The Herald, November 7th 2018


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