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Mouthpiece

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

If genius steals, how do you split up the loot? That’s just one of the questions that Kieran Hurley pins to the wall in his new play for the Traverse, which dissects both the culture and class wars alongside the eternal contradictions of both. Under-achieving Edinburgh writer Libby is about to make the ultimate dramatic gesture when she is saved by Declan, a teenage boy from the housing schemes with a raw artistic talent that enables Libby to get her mojo back. Everything, alas, is material, especially Declan’s life.

The psycho-sexual tug of love that follows makes for the perfect final gift from the Traverse’s outgoing artistic director Orla O’Loughlin. Her production takes a daring leap through the fourth wall of Kai Fischer’s framed black-box set to question who exactly owns the stories that shape us. Stage-directions are projected onto this interior, both from Hurley’s actual play as well as Libby’s soon-to-be-devastating work-in-progress.

Lorn Macdonald and Neve McIntosh bring enough dynamic light and shade to Declan and Libby’s increasingly ferocious sparring, so things never feel heavy-handed in what initially looks like a gender-swapped Pygmalion or Educating Rita. Driven by Kim Moore’s burbling electronic score, Hurley takes things further, so the play becomes a wrestling match for the soul of a divided society in which art imitates life imitating art in a safe space where everyone likes a bit of rough.

While there are moments you wonder what any of this means outside the theatre world’s concerned but cosy bubble that those both making and watching the show exist inside, this is at least part of the play’s point. If a real-life Declan gate-crashed a real-life Libby’s moment of triumph as he does here, chances are he’d be out on his ear within seconds. Such are the terminally unresolved challenges Hurley raises in a show where every person in the room becomes complicit in using Declan and Libby’s stories for our own thrill-seeking ends.

The Herald, December 7th 2018

ends

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