PPP: Variant

Mar 28 2023 | By More

★★★★☆   Unsettling

Traverse: Tue 28 Mar – Sat 1 Apr 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

There is a pleasing intransigence to Variant by Peter Arnott, the latest Play, Pie and a Pint from Oran Mor at the Traverse – and Arnott’s fiftieth professionally produced play.

A woman and a man (Meghan Tyler and Simon Donaldson) are on stage, in one of those undefined locations that feature in so many two-handed plays. Are they a couple, or adversaries? Is this a thriller, a love story, a police procedural, or something else? And do they really know each other at all?

Meghan Tyler and Simon Donaldson in Variant. Pic Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

The premeditated absurdity of the environment (with its limbo-like appearance as likely to be an office as an otherworldly setting) is exploited with some skill, as questions pile up on each other rather than being answered.

It soon becomes clear, indeed, that the queries being posed may be insoluble in any satisfactory sense. The ending, therefore, is almost bound to be something of a let-down. Even before it arrives, the narrative starts to look like something we have all seen many times before – and not just because portions of the onstage action are repeated.

Arnott, however, is such a talented writer that there is certain to be a compulsion to his dialogue, and Taylor and Donaldson perform it with an expertly judged blend of realism and portentousness, that often threatens to tip over into the ludicrous but never quite does.

enviable command of pace

This is helped by Kolbrún Björt Sigfúsdóttir’s direction, which has an enviable command of pace, ensuring that the atmosphere is thoroughly tense and suitably enigmatic. Gemma Patchett and Jonny Scott’s design further heightens the mystery, with a circus-like ring enclosing the participants, who are clad in a variety of washed-out greys.

The ultimate destination of the story may be a disappointment, but on the way there are thought-provoking themes of trust, responsibility, family and shared memory. There are even questions about the nature and purpose of theatrical storytelling – something that is aided by Ross Kirkland’s lighting.

Such meta-theatrical playfulness can often be thoroughly annoying, but the gravity with which it is portrayed is symptomatic of a production that is commendably serious without ever being po-faced.

While neither as original nor as fascinating as it threatens to be, this nevertheless has a tautness and skill that is very attractive.

Running time 45 minutes (no interval)
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge St, EH1 2ED
Tuesday 28 March – Saturday 1 April 2023
Daily at 1.00 pm
Details and tickets: Book here

Meghan Tyler and Simon Donaldson in Variant. Pic Tommy Ga-Ken Wan


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