PPP: Coast

Sep 26 2023 | By More

★★★★☆   Touching

Traverse: Tue 26 – Sat 30 Sept 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

Coast, the latest offering at the Traverse from A Play, A Pie and A Pint (co-presented with Òran Mór), is a wonderfully judged and absorbing drama.

Writer-director Annie George’s play shows two half-brothers, who have only recently met for the first time, sharing an ill-fated trip by car from Glasgow to Manchester.

Coast by Annie George. A Play, A Pie and A Pint at Traverse, September 2023

Beruce Khan and Hamzah Aftab. Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Coast is one of those short titles that simultaneously suggests nothing and everything. Banish any thoughts of the TV programme – which is fortunate, as a jukebox musical about Neil Oliver is the last thing any of us needs. Indeed, the coastline is not really the central focus of the play, although the characters do spend a large proportion of the running time stranded in Blackpool.

Trying to mount a stage version of the road movie is more popular than you might imagine, but Coast works better than almost all of them – at least partly because for much of it the two characters do not actually go anywhere. There is the odd self-referential mention of the road movie genre, but this works because (like the humour in the script) it comes from the characters and so appears very realistic.

The coastal metaphor is also a success because a down-at-heel, deserted seaside resort is one of those locations referred to nowadays (and probably far too often) as a ‘liminal space’. It functions very well as a scene for the retrieval of memories as the two men confront the past that they share, even though they hardly know each other, as the older Kay was brought up solely by his mother after his father left them for Jay’s mother.

lightly worn

Like everything else in the script, however, such metaphors are all the more effective for being lightly worn – the couple of occasions when the dialogue seems to strive more obviously for profundity are less effective, but these moments are few and far between.

Unlike many short plays, there is no desire to cram in plot for its own sake; instead, the backgrounds and backstories of the two men are sketched in deftly and with real care, meaning that we have a real sense of their personalities and family.

Hamzah Aftab and Beruce Khan. Pic Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Beruce Khan gives a thoroughly rounded portrayal of Kay, who has repressed any feelings of abandonment, instead taking refuge in humour, forced positivity and a belief that he is too busy to form relationships.

The younger Jay is just as prey to self-delusion, believing himself to be an artistic free spirit, unable to be tied down. Hamzah Aftab’s performance is as impressive as Khan’s, and there is a grounded element to both characterisations that means there is never any feeling of cliché in the situation, which the ‘mismatched pair thrown together’ element of the story would suggest. Similarly, the naming of the characters essentially as letters, which could sound either too flippant or too Kafkaesque, never seems a problem.

Instead, it is all very believable, with the discussions of father-son relationships, childhood trauma and (particularly) bereavement having a ring of truth that makes for an emotional watch at times.

well-judged staging

Yet it is never depressing, with that leavening of humour adding to a tremendously well-judged staging – George’s direction is unfussy, unhurried and thoroughly impressive, making good use of the space and of Gemma Patchett and Jonny Scott’ stage set. Eve Allan’s sound design also adds considerably to the atmosphere.

The deliberate decision to make this an apparently small-scale affair – Kay insists ‘my story isn’t a headline grabber’ – is the very thing that gives this production such resonance. The convincing nature of the situation (thanks to George’s beautifully considered dialogue) and the impeccable staging, makes this something of a gem.

Running time 45 minutes (no interval)
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge St, EH1 2ED
Tuesday 26 – Saturday 30 September 2023
Daily at 1.00 pm
Details and tickets: Book here.

For full details of this Autumn’s PPP season at the Traverse, see our preview: PPP tales of coming home.

Hamzah Aftab holding Beruce Khan. Pic Tommy Ga-Ken Wan


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