PPP: Burning Bright

Mar 7 2023 | By More

★★☆☆☆      Committed

Traverse: Tue 7 – Sat 11 Mar 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

Burning Bright, Oran Mor’s latest A Play, A Pie and A Pint at the Traverse, features impressive performances and confident staging in the service of vital themes. However, it never quite fuses together into a persuasive whole.

Three parallel stories are presented in Àine King’s play. A young woman who set up a business offering eco-cruises in the Arctic faces up to the destruction of the environment and the loss of the partner whose dream their business was. A boy whose family fled droughts in India encounters racism in Scotland. A relocated Scottish reporter chases up stories of wildfires in a location that is unnamed but appears to be California.

Hannah Jarrett-Scott in Burning Bright. Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

It is difficult to explain why the structure is so unsatisfactory without indulging in some spoilers. Not that this really matters, as there is a comparatively little to spoil in terms of development of either plot or character.

The switching from one monologue to another occurs every couple of minutes, which soon irritates. Such a structure is often resolved by tenuous or contrived links being discovered between the characters. This can create its own problems, but is surely preferable to the situation here, where the three story lines are linked only thematically, to the extent that it never really seems to be one play.

This lack of coherence would not be so much of an issue if the three monologues themselves were more urgent or convincing. Attempts are made to be both poetic and humorous, but these seem forced.

never compels

There can be no denying the importance of the subject matter, or the conviction of the performers. But the end result never compels in the way it should.

Sufficient time is spent detailing the back story of each of the three characters, and their narratives are told with some elegance and economy. However, they rely a little too much on stock situations and characters. It is not difficult, for example, to guess that a character described as having a beard festooned with Confederate flags and swastikas is going to turn out to be a bad ´un.

Adam Buksh in Burning Bright. Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Hannah Jarrett-Scott certainly gives the grief-stricken tour operator a desperate vitality, while Suzanne Magowan is compellingly energetic as the reporter who feels undervalued and sidelined. Adam Buksh is extremely strong at portraying a boy whose family discovers that threats from the climate and local wildlife are not limited to India.

Although the problems inherent in the constant switching of focus are never really overcome, director Roxana Haines minimises the inconvenience by injecting real momentum into the production, aided considerably by Ross Nurney’s lighting.

Gemma Patchett and Jonny Scott’s design – featuring a wall made up of plastic detritus – is symbolic of the whole production, in that it is undoubtedly effective and thoroughly appropriate, but just a little bit too familiar.

just too reasonable

In the end, it is all just too reasonable. The themes could not be more pressing; the climate emergency has dropped to the back of the news agenda again, while the children of immigrants appear to be competing in Parliament to see who can be the most intolerant towards new arrivals.

The reporter is told that ‘no-one is interested in just fires’, and sadly plays, like news stories, often need a convincing angle to tell a story – either a new slant, or an abundance of emotion.

Unfortunately, not much is fresh here, and the characters are too polite, even when confronted by racists or cartoonish, gun-wielding, Trump supporters. While the play is admirable in its lack of pat resolutions, or in its disinclination to give in to either anger or despair, a little more spark would have gone a long way to combating the problems posed by the structural infelicities.

Running time 50 minutes (no interval)
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge St, EH1 2ED
Tuesday 7 – Saturday 11 March 2023
Daily at 1.00 pm

Tickets and details: Book here.

Suzanne Magowan in Burning Bright. Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan


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