thu 30/05/2024

Edinburgh Fringe 2023 reviews: Heaven / Lie Low / After the Act | reviews, news & interviews

Edinburgh Fringe 2023 reviews: Heaven / Lie Low / After the Act

Edinburgh Fringe 2023 reviews: Heaven / Lie Low / After the Act

Three outstanding shows at the Traverse Theatre tackle unexplored life choices, uncertain trauma and Section 28

Gobby but vulnerable: Janet Moran as a larger-than-life Mairead in Eugene O’Brien’s 'Heaven'Ste Murray

Heaven, Traverse Theatre 

It’s a rare show that combines form and content to quite such devastatingly potent effect. The storyline of two-hander Heaven from Dublin-based Fishamble theatre company might seem simple: a middle-aged couple return to their former home town, where they encounter old (and new) flames, leading to a reassessment of their partnership, love and hopes.

Despite the narrow focus of the material – examined in forensic detail in Eugene O’Brien’s penetrating script – there’s nonetheless a mythic quality to these two everypeople, buffeted by forces greater than themselves, yet just about daring to exert their own wishes and desires.

In form, Heaven follows a well-worn path of interlocking monologues delivered direct to the audience. But O’Brien’s writing is so rich, so exquisitely crafted that you’re left hanging on every word, every surprise and every inevitability, as if the play were a beautifully conceived novel.

Performances match the writing in terms of brilliant clarity and raw authenticity. Janet Moran is gobby and larger-than-life as Mairead, yet shot through with aching vulnerability and need. Andrew Bennett has less to work with as Mal, but there’s nonetheless a wide-eyed fragility and wonder at a world unexplored, a desperate yearning to his warm performance.

Zia Bergin-Holly’s simple but evocative set serves as bar, pavement, even bedroom, while Jim Culleton’s direction allows time and space for the play’s idea to hit home forcefully. This is a grown-up, thoughtful piece, one that considers companionship, missed opportunities and (to coin a phrase) the audacity of hope, with generosity, warmth and compassion.

Lie LowLie Low, Traverse Theatre 

Another Irish two-hander, though Ciara Elizabeth Smyth’s Lie Low is an altogether slipperier, profoundly darker creation. Faye hasn’t slept for three weeks, terrified that the duck-masked man will reappear from her wardrobe and – well, do what he did to her before, but all over again. When her brother Naoise makes an unexpected reappearance in her life, she sees the perfect opportunity for a spot of exposure therapy – until Naoise’s performance begins to feel unsettlingly familiar.

Faye’s absolutely fine, she constantly reassures anyone who’ll listen – with increasing desperation. But what writer Smyth delivers so brilliantly is an ever-shifting sense of reality, where Faye may indeed be just about coping, or may be deeply traumatised. And where her brother may be an innocent victim, or perhaps a sickening monster. Smyth takes us to some dark places – including an image of male degradation that sticks long in the memory, however deserved it might (or might not) be – but she refuses to provide any easy, finger-pointing answers, instead asking just how far we’ll go as spectators with our sense of humour, or feelings of outrage.

Charlotte McCurry is breathtakingly intense as the fractured Faye, with emotions and ruses flickering restlessly across her face. Thomas Finnegan treads a fine line between neediness and swagger as Naoise (he alternates with Michael Patrick in the role), capturing just the right sense of oily amorality. Director Oisín Kearney wrings all of Smyth’s toe-curling plot twists for maximum discomfort, adapting the show’s pacing to focus in mercilessly on pressure points. There are no heroes or villains here, just imperfect, broken people dealing inadequately with their problems.

After the Act After the Act, Traverse Theatre 

Breach Theatre have had a few Fringe hits in recent years – the memorable dolphin-human love story of Tank among them. But Section 28 verbatim musical After the Act feels like quite a step up in ambition. With a live two-piece band (musicians Frew and Ellie Showering) blasting out synth-heavy 80s-style tunes from virtually start to finish, plus an elaborate set and projections, not to mention a pre-requisite Margaret Thatcher impression (nicely pulled off by co-writer Ellice Stevens), there’s a lot going on. Add to that composer Frew’s high-concept musical settings of parliamentary debates, newspaper scare stories and – most crucially – specially recorded interviews with individuals who lived through the England’s 15-year ban on the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools.

It all feels a bit like a juggernaut of music and history careening towards you. But this breathtaking richness of material and concept only serves to make After the Act all the more overwhelmingly powerful. Writers Stevens and Billy Barrett (two of Breach’s founders) take a chronological approach from well-meaning attempts at increased gay visibility to subsequent media outrage, parental panic and ultimately political crackdown. Most moving, however, are the tales of teachers forbidden from offering support and advice to pupils who fear (the right verb in this brutal context) they might be gay, or young people left adrift with help and information effectively suppressed.

Performers Tika Mu’tamir, EM Williams, Zachary Willis and Stevens sustain apparently endless energy for the show’s demanding dance routines and sweaty workouts, while keeping enough aside to deliver the songs concocted convincingly from the verbatim material. After the Act is a moving tribute, a cry of fury, and a timely reminder against complacency – entertaining, provocative and important.

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters