PPP: Alföld

Nov 2 2022 | By More

★★★☆☆   Intriguing

Traverse: Tue 1 – Sat 5 Nov 2022
Review by Hugh Simpson

There is a commendable seriousness and ambition to Alföld, the latest Play, Pie and A Pint from Oran Mor at the Traverse, that makes it a worthwhile production, even if it is not entirely convincing.

Joe McCann’s play features Jake (Benjamin Osugo), a Black Glaswegian, and Virag (Francesca Hess), his Hungarian wife, travelling by train across the Great Hungarian Plain that gives the play its title. With the two of them battered and bruised by racism and misogyny, the couple’s relationship has descended into a Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf-style pattern of game-playing and mutually assured destruction.

Into this febrile atmosphere comes Bela (Sam Stopford), whose repression and disappointment are turned outwards into prejudice.

Sam Stopford, Benjamin Osugo and Francesca Hess in Alfold. Pic Tommy Ga Ken Wan

Although the three characters are largely unsympathetic, they are thoroughly recognisable, and the three performers do the roles justice. The language crackles with life, and weighty matters are explored – personal and collective identity, interpersonal relationships on both the domestic and the global scale, fear and intolerance. This means that the production is the very definition of thought-provoking.

Which is not to say that it is wholly – or even largely – successful. Billed as yet another “dark comedy”, there is precious little to laugh at here. The description instead is apparently used to excuse some deliberately and abruptly heightened sequences, demonstrating the tricks we play both on ourselves and on those around us.


The surefooted direction of Dominic Hill (of the Citizens Theatre) helps this all make sense. The railway-carriage set of Gemma Patchett and Jonny Scott, which is opened out yet still claustrophobic, is notably well used. Ross Kirkland’s lighting and Andy Cowan’s sound are also highly atmospheric, although the train sound effects can be intrusive after the setting has already been so well established.

Sam Stopford and Francesca Hess in Alfold. Pic: Tommy Ga Ken Wan

By far the most convincing elements of the play are the various characters’ backstories. These make for a much more satisfactory narrative than the somewhat artificial situation in which the rest of the story is played out. These moments show McCann to be a writer of considerable gifts and also give the performers an opportunity to demonstrate their craft.

The play gives every appearance of being an idea that wants to sail off into less charted waters, but keeps being brought back to being a more conventional three-hander.

Real credit to Play, A Pie and A Pint for trying something different, but it may have been better if it was more different still.

Running time 50 minutes (no interval)
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge St, EH1 2ED
Tuesday 1 – Saturday 5 November 2022
Daily at 1.00 pm
Tickets and details: Book here.

Francesca Hess and Benjamin Osugo in Alfold. Pic Tommy Ga Ken Wan


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