PPP: Starving

Mar 13 2024 | By More

★★★★☆    Nutritious

Traverse: Tue 12 – Sat 16 Mar 2024
Review by Hugh Simpson

Starving by Imogen Stirling, the latest Play, Pie and a Pint at the Traverse from Òran Mór in collaboration with Raw Materials, is a potent and fascinating piece.

Wendy Wood (Isabella Jarrett), the artist and campaigner for Scottish independence, is here depicted during her 1972 hunger strike for Home Rule. Somehow she encounters Freya (Madeline Grieve), resident in the same flat in 2024. On her 30th birthday, Freya is unable to go outside due to anxiety – not least about the growing tide of misogyny and violence against women.

Madeline Grieve and Isabella Jarrett. Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Stirling’s script is excellently paced and snappily written. What is particularly impressive for a first-time playwright is the things that the play doesn’t do.

Despite a background in performance poetry, Stirling resists the temptation to be self-consciously poetic. The common failing in PPP of trying to cram in too much plot is also hearteningly absent, as is any time-consuming attempt to explain the situation. Much like Wood’s reaction to Freya’s iPhone, any initial bewilderment is rapidly replaced by acceptance.

considerable nuance

The characters are drawn carefully and with considerable nuance. Freya’s fears are entirely justified but nevertheless she is presented as somewhat self-obsessed. Wendy Wood is portrayed sympathetically but still has the frightening fanaticism of a zealot who is utterly convinced in the rightness of their cause.

Another trap that Stirling resolutely avoids is the temptation to draw too many artificial parallels between the characters’ situations. Instead, it is the differences between them, as much as the similarities, which drive the play.

Madeline Grieve and Isabella Jarrett. Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

It is a shame, then, that the end of the drama seems a little convenient by comparison. This is certainly alleviated by some good old-fashioned consciousness-raising which (despite the not-always-convincing rapping) is highly effective.

The quality of the characterisations is matched by the power of the performances. Jarrett’s Wendy Wood has both a real fire and a grounded quality that is utterly compelling, while Grieve combines humour and pathos to great effect as Freya.

There is a rhythm to their interactions that is always engrossing, helped by the inventive direction of Eve Nicol. The frequent use of microphones could be off-putting in such a small space, but (like everything else) it is handled with consideration and considerable flair. The design of Cathan McRoberts, the lighting of Ross Kirkland and the sound of Ross Nurney also impress.

consistently absorbing

A figure of some prominence at the time, Wood may now only be, as the play suggests ‘a badly-edited Wikipedia page’. It is to the play’s credit that it does not strive too hard to correct this. Instead, its examination of history, freedom and self-determination touches on a host of other issues in a way that is vital and consistently absorbing.

Running time 50 minutes (no interval)
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge St, EH1 2ED
Tuesday 12 – Saturday 16 March 2024
Daily at 1.00 pm
Details and tickets: Book here.

Isabella Jarrett and Madeline Grieve. Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan


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