PPP: Disfunction

Oct 25 2023 | By More

★★☆☆☆     Confusing

Traverse: Tue 24 – Sat 28 Oct 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

Disfunction by Kate Bowen and directed by Lu Kemp, the last in the Traverse’s current season of Òran Mór’s A Play, A Pie and A Pint, is a lively but ultimately puzzling piece.

Sisters Melanie (Maureen Carr) and Moira (Maureen Beattie) have been playing their game Disfunction (invented by Melanie, complete with non-standard spelling) for decades. Now, however, they are being threatened with losing the house they grew up in. Moira’s god-daughter Tanya (Betty Valencia) has set up a Zoom call with games industry executives, who are interested in buying the game. However, since the game involves the revealing of family secrets, a stressful time is guaranteed.

Maureen Carr, Betty Valencia and Maureen Beattie. Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

It is an intriguing premise that seems sure to lead to a taut drama. There is certainly much of interest; the performances are unsurprisingly very fine, with Carr’s command of physical comedy contrasting with Beattie’s more controlled but still angry display. Valencia is also extremely impressive as the conflicted younger character, and overall there is no shortage of energy.

There is also no shortage of sparkle in Bowen’s dialogue, and Lu Kemp’s direction is pacey and clear.

However, there is a massive problem with the plot. It seems apparent that the game of Disfunction is to be played online for a cash jackpot, but there is no clue as to how this will work. Furthermore, it is decidedly questionable that anyone would shell out a ‘six-figure sum’ for what is essentially the familiar game of ‘truth or dare’.

frankly baffling

The only other element of the game shown is a confusing trivia-cum-poker round where the contestants take the roles of Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng and answer questions on their disastrous mini-budget. Perhaps when the play was first envisioned this made sense, but now it works neither as satire nor as a coherent part of a game. Since the game itself is the focus of the play, its frankly baffling nature makes for an uneven spectacle.

Maureen Beattie with Maureen Carr and Betty Valencia . Pic Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Much of the humour falls decidedly flat, while the ending is thoroughly unsatisfactory. There are some trenchant political points made about how much of the economy (particularly the housing market) has come to resemble a casino. Unfortunately the only one that is developed is a tale about an actual casino, which seems out of place.

Jonny Scott and Gemma Patchett’s solid living-room set echoes the way this play is trying to say something about the trials of family life and the cost of living. However, the game of Disfunction itself is elevated from being a MacGuffin to being the centre of events, and is never going to be up to the task. As a result – despite the sterling efforts of all concerned – this production never really works.

Running time: One hour (no interval)
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge St, EH1 2ED
Tuesday 24 – Saturday 28 October 2023
Daily at 1.00 pm
Details and tickets: Book here.

Maureen Carr, Maureen Beattie and Betty Valencia. Pic Tommy Ga-Ken Wan


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