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A Kind of Alaska

Eastgate Theatre, Peebles
Three stars

In a white hospital ward, a woman wakes up to the world she used to know, but which isn’t quite the same as what feels like moments ago. In actuality in Harold Pinter’s late period miniature, Gina went to sleep as a teenage girl twenty-nine years ago, and has come to as a middle-aged woman, but with all her girlish dreams of old gushing out now in a torrent of brain/speech activity.

Watched over by doting doctor Hornby, husband of Deborah’s sister Pauline, the latter of whom he might well have met while caring for her sibling, Deborah is initially overwhelmed by a rush of memories. Among the litanies of boyfriends and fall-outs, long-buried intimations of something far darker surface briefly before she flashes forward to the next thing. When exactly those things happened, if at all, is up for debate.

Inspired by Oliver Sacks’ book, Awakenings, which looks at the effects of encephalitis lethargica, or sleepy sickness, which leaves sufferers in a long-term comatose state, Pinter’s 1982 play is uncharacteristically specific in situation and locale. Out of this, however, he delves deep into the psyche of being a stranger in a strange world.

Michael Emans’ revival for Rapture Theatre’s Rapture Bites season of touring lunchtime theatre is pitched high from the off. Where one might expect quietude, some moments feel unnecessarily declaimed. Despite this, the play’s cast of three led by Gina Isaac as Deborah, capture the sense of mutual bewilderment that has shocked them all into life.

Burt Ceasar makes a brooding Hornby and Janet Coulson a resigned Pauline. Both characters have had their lives, and seem shell-shocked into silence by having them turned upside down like this. As Deborah, Isaac has her move between hysteria and eventual acceptance as she comes to terms with her past and squares up to her present. In terms of the future, however, chances are she’ll never quite manage to come in from the cold.

The Herald, March 27th 2019



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