Aug 15 2016 | By More

★★☆☆☆    Disconnected

Traverse Theatre (Venue 15) Aug 5 – 28 2016
Review by Hugh Simpson

The premiere of Ross Dunsmore’s Milk at the Traverse is well acted and carefully staged. However, it never overcomes an unsatisfactory construction.

There are three parallel stories here, which immediately calls to mind last year’s Swallow, produced by the same creative team. But whereas there the different stories fed off each other, illuminated each other and eventually came together, Milk has no such coherence.

Tam Dean Burn and Ann Louise Ross. Photo Sally Judd

Tam Dean Burn and Ann Louise Ross. Photo Sally Judd

Developed over a year since arriving through the Traverse’s Open Submissions programme, Dunsmore’s first full-length play still seems undercooked and overstretched.

There are definite signs of promise that explain why the Traverse put such faith in him. Unfortunately, the result is a trio of separate plays that only intersect in the most cursory manner. Ageing war veteran Cyril and his wife May, beset by dogs and knife-wielding youths, are scared to leave the house; Nicole and her husband Danny await the birth of their baby; troubled teenager Steph and her not-quite-boyfriend Ash both struggle with body issues.

The three stories have little in common beyond unconvincing metaphors about nurturing and nourishment. The dialogue tends towards the histrionic and melodramatic, to the extent that it is difficult to know whether the older couple’s story’s echoes of Endgame are evidence of desire to present human life as absurd, or an unconscious result of an attempt to present a realistic situation that has gone awry.

a dignified, stoical grace

Either way, it is by far the most interesting storyline on display. Ann Louise Ross is wonderfully touching as May, while Tam Dean Burn (a late replacement for the indisposed Cliff Burnett) gives Cyril a dignified, stoical grace that verges on the heartbreaking. There is definitely something interesting here, and it becomes frustrating whenever the focus shifts away from them.

The connections between the three strands, slim as they are, are contrived to say the least, and the motivations of the other four characters are beyond fathoming. This is not the fault of the performers: Ryan Fletcher, Melody Grove and Helen Mallon do their best as Danny, Nicole and Steph, while Cristian Ortega is particularly impressive as the Nandos-munching Ash.

However, beyond an inchoate desperation, there is nothing to these characters. There are odd hints of an interesting issue – the pressures on teenagers to conform to a certain body image, the way the stress on breastfeeding makes anyone incapable of it feel like a failure – but there is not enough here to sustain a play of even half this length.

Technically, the production has had a great deal of care lavished on it. Orla O’Loughlin’s direction is impeccable, while the sound design of Danny Krass is always interesting, even if Fred Meller’s set is a little on the unsubtle side. Despite all the polish, however, this fails to convince.

Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes
Traverse Theatre (Venue 15), 10 Cambridge Street, EH1 2ED
Friday 5 – Sunday 28 August 2016
Daily, not Monday. Times vary: check website for details
Book tickets on the EdFringe website:
Traverse website:
Twitter: @traversetheatre


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