Review – Ciara

Dec 13 2013 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩  Brutally poetic

Blythe Duff in Ciara. Photo © Jeremy Abrahams

Blythe Duff in Ciara. Photo © Jeremy Abrahams

Traverse Theatre
Tues 3 – Sat 21 December
Review by Hugh Simpson

A towering performance by Blythe Duff marks out the Traverse’s revival of their Edinburgh fringe hit Ciara, which plays until the 21st.

The Ciara of the title of David Harrower’s play is the daughter of a feared Glasgow criminal. Shielded by her father from his world while he was alive, she now runs a gallery.

Her husband Brian, who was previously one of her father’s trusted associates and is now in charge of his empire, introduces her to fading artist Alan Torrance, who seems to represent a chance for her to put her business on the map. Instead, her two worlds combine and threaten to destroy her.

The unseen male characters in the play are those instantly recognisable representations of machismo who simultaneously worship and fear femininity, declaring they are protecting women while in reality marginalising and brutalising them.

This contrast is mirrored in the mixture of affection and fear felt towards the crime lords by their community that is alluded to in the play, and the combination of disapproval and prurient indulgence they are afforded in so many ‘True Glasgow Crime’ stories.

Such a dichotomy is represented beautifully by the language of the play, which is an amalgam of poetry and earthiness, played with great precision by Duff. Her delivery is mainly measured and understated, weighing each line judiciously. Orla O’Loughlin’s direction is similarly nuanced and carefully judged. The cavernous, warehouse-like set also adds to the atmosphere, allied to sparing and effective use of light and sound. Ciara’s simple, elegant costume hints almost at Greek tragedy.

This is a production which is all the better for its complete lack of grandstanding; everything here is at the service of the play. This means that any emotion that is displayed is all the more believable, and the profound sadness of Ciara’s character is all the more deeply felt.

Ciara is a magnificent creation
Blythe Duff as Ciara. Her

Blythe Duff. Ciara’s “simple, elegant costume hints almost at Greek tragedy”. Photo © Jeremy Abrahams

While the play has interesting things to say about the way Scots (and not just Glaswegians) are often simultaneously dismissive and protective of the same things, there are other parts which do not quite ring true. Some of the more satirical points about the workings of local government and the arts are a little on the clunky side and elicit rather forced laughter.

Nevertheless, the character of Ciara is a magnificent creation, embodying the way that we can all enjoy luxuries while shutting our eyes to the suffering that went into their making. Those moral sacrifices and rationalisations we make in order to keep going are summed up by the way that in her world loan sharks and car thieves are regarded as being upstanding figures in the community – until they start selling drugs.

Ciara takes a liking to a painting by Torrance of a sleeping woman, a figure which symbolises not only her attitude but also that of so many of us who turn a blind eye. Suggestions that the Glasgow setting makes the play too parochial are blown away by the universality of the themes; besides, is that ever a criticism levelled at works set in London?

Sometimes a production which impresses as part of the merry-go-round of the fringe can lose a little of its impact when asked to stand on its own. It is a brave decision by the Traverse to stage a bleak one-woman show as its competition with Christmas shows, but it certainly stands up to further scrutiny.

This remains an utterly compelling performance by Blythe Duff; anyone who missed it in August should grab the chance to see it now.

Running time 1 hour 20 minutes
Run ends Saturday 21 December 2013
Evenings 7.30 pm, Matinee Sat 14 Dec 2.30 pm
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge Street EH1 2ED
Tickets from the Traverse website on:

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