A Slow Air

May 23 2014 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩   Riveting intimacy

King’s Theatre  Thurs 22 – Fri 23 May 2014

Two exceptional performances make Borderline’s A Slow Air a production that demands to be seen. Written and directed by David Harrower, the play has been touring to great acclaim since 2011 and continues to be a thoroughly rewarding experience.


Pauline Knowles and Lewis Howden. Photo © John Johnston

Brother and sister Atholl and Morna have not spoken for years. Atholl now lives in Renfrewshire, where he runs a flooring company; Morna is still in Edinburgh, living in Dalry and cleaning for the ‘poshos’ in the Grange. The upcoming 21st birthday of Morna’s son Joshua provides the catalyst for the play’s events.

There is nothing world-shattering or sensational going on here, but the small-scale family drama played out is no less important for that, and touches on deeper concerns.

How strong the ties of family and community remain, however strained they may become, is beautifully evoked by Harrower’s typically spare, expertly judged language, which shifts easily from jagged asperity to hard-won poetry and shafts of dry humour. The emotions on show ring true to life, and the ability to show so much of the characters when they are concealing so much, even from themselves, is the mark of a master of his craft.

There is a real sense of place here, and since many of the places so clearly evoked are in Edinburgh, from the Dickens bar to the Meadows (‘all students and suicide joggers now’) this really deserves to be seen by many more of its residents. There is nothing parochial about the play, however. The events of the Glasgow Airport bomb attack of 2007 form an important part of the background of the piece, bringing wider political considerations into play.

Pauline Knowles and Lewis Howden. Photo © John Johnston

Pauline Knowles and Lewis Howden. Photo © John Johnston

The structure of the piece – essentially, a series of monologues with little interaction between the performers – could be a problem in less skilled hands, but Harrower’s direction helps to keep things moving, and both actors deserve the highest praise.

Lewis Howden (Atholl) mixes gruffness, insecurity and concealed tenderness perfectly, while Pauline Knowles is tremendous as the brittle, disappointed Morna. Both are equally adept at suggesting the hidden depths that make the characters so believable.

Jessica Brettle’s clever set reinforces the notion of the everyday representing something wider. Dave Shea’s lighting, however, signals the shifts in narrative perhaps a little too mechanically at times. This cannot help but make us think that there is something not entirely theatrical here, that this is more of a ‘radio play on stage’. This has not really been the case even in the most intimate of Harrower’s other works. In truth, it is not much of a drawback here, when what we do have is an excellent script delivered by two formidable performers.

Running time 1 hr 20 mins (no interval)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ
Run ends Friday 23 May 2014
Evenings 7.30 pm
Tickets from http://www.edtheatres.com/

Click on the image above to purchase the script from Amazon.

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