Traverse Breakfast Plays: New Tracks (1)

August 26, 2020 | By | 1 Reply More

Contemporary Political Ethics (Or, How to Cheat) ★★★☆☆

Rabbit Catcher ★★★★☆

Traverse 3: Mon 24 Aug – Mon 7 Sept
Review by Hugh Simpson

The Traverse are replicating their Fringe Breakfast Plays with streams from their new online-only Traverse 3, and the first two offerings – Contemporary Political Ethics (Or, How to Cheat) by Jamie Cowan and Rabbit Catcher by Rebecca Martin – both have much to recommend them.

Both are intended to showcase new writing and are presented in audio only, having been rehearsed and recorded remotely over two days. In effect, both are radio plays rather than stage productions, but this does mean that they come across with a high degree of slickness, rather than the wing-and-a-prayer, sometimes apologetic Zoom-call constructions we have been getting used to. In particular the sound design in both plays is first-rate.

Breakfast Plays New Tracks -Contemporary Political Ethics by Jamie Cowan. Image by Mihaela Bodlovic

Jamie Cowan’s Contemporary Political Ethics is much the more conventional affair, being a three-hander playing out in real time and in one setting that you could easily imagine on the BBC (although probably with less swearing). Terry (Robbie Jack) and Hannah (Russell Martin) are in charge of a notably under-utilised polling station, while Kev (Bhav Joshi) is a surly teenager there under sufferance.

The three performers are uniformly excellent, and there is a great deal of wit and political punch in Cowan’s script. Direction by Gareth Nicholls and Kim Moore’s sound design contribute to an audibly impressive production.

However, there is little in the way of development across a piece that seems overstretched. While the discussion of political issues – in particular immigration – is deftly and subtly done, the characters are too broadly defined and lack nuance, while the plot tends to the predictable.

fantastical and more visceral

Despite its real-world setting, this is the more cartoonish of these two pieces; Rebecca Martin’s Rabbit Catcher is at once more fantastical and more visceral in its depiction of violence.

Set on Ord Hill, which looms over Inverness from the Black Isle (and will be familiar to anyone who has crossed the Kessock Bridge), this deals with recently-dead Ren’s struggle with the Highland Devil, aided by a much-longer deceased Dead Girl.

Breakfast Plays New Tracks Rabbit Catcher by Rebecca Martin. Image by Mihaela Bodlovic

While there are definite ties to more everyday concerns of power and gender (the title is not the only nod to Sylvia Plath), whether or not this is your cup of tea will depend largely on your tolerance for fantasy.

Suffice it to say that, while determinedly and lyrically poetic, it is not remotely twee or whimsical, being a decidedly hard-edged excursion into Scottish myth. There are undoubtedly faults in a script that at times verges on the impenetrable, but the overall effect is never less than compelling.

Gareth Nicholls once again directs, with a clarity that gives shape to a script that otherwise might have seemed inchoate, and Oğuz Kaplangi’s sound design is exemplary. Anna Russell-Martin’s Ren has a magnetic quality that is shared by Karen Fishwick’s Dead Girl and Reuben Joseph’s Highland Devil.

dram in hand affair

All of the faults of this production are down to an excess of poetic invention, which as faults go is not a bad one. It also seems ideally suited to this format, as it is difficult to envisage it working on stage – although it would definitely be worth seeing any such attempt.

The attempt to keep the Breakfast Play concept going is commendable, with the added bonus that these can be streamed at any time. Contemporary Political Ethics is better suited to a morning roll; Rabbit Catcher is undoubtedly more of a late-night, curtains drawn, dram in hand affair.

Running times: Contemporary Political Ethics 55 minutes; Rabbit Catcher 47 minutes
Traverse 3 online platform
Contemporary Political Ethics is available Monday 24 August – Sunday 6 September 2020
Rabbit Catcher is available Tuesday 25 August – Monday 7 September 2020
Details at https://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/traverse-festival

ENDS

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