Review – Sanctuary

Jun 14 2013 | By More

✭✭✩✩✩   Looking for love

Sanctuary Black Dingo Productions

Promotional image for Sanctuary

Whitespace, Gayfield Square,
13 – 15 June 2013
Review by J. A. Sutherland

Leith, like June, has been busting out all over this week. Amid the full programme of Leith Festival comes Sanctuary, a new work by grassroots company, Black Dingo Productions.

Written by Black Dingo’s founder, David McFarlane, Sanctuary will fit in perfectly during August when it is revived for a stint at the fringe. And full marks to Black Dingo for keeping off-the-beaten-track theatre going all year.

There is a spit-and-sawdust production-value which accompanies such work and there is no fooling anyone into thinking that is a big-budget production. The set, designed by Kirsty Baxter who also directs, consists of a double bed surrounded with white-painted cardboard boxes. The props, made of paper right down to the TV remote-control, do not imply that this is a complicated situation.

The main thrust of the play stems from the lacklustre relationship between Cara Wicks’ spendthrift young woman, Janet, and Rob David’s geeky young man, Michael. It makes sense that the only things of perceptible value on the stage are her shopping bags – and the clothes and jewellery that she removes at one point in a slightly uncomfortable section. Why she does this is unclear. But then, why she moves in with her geeky boyfriend who – until the point that he invites her to do so – has not even allowed her toothbrush to move in is also unclear.

There are many fine examples in drama of the line: “I don’t love you anymore,” or its rhetorical converse: “You don’t love me anymore?”. Think of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House or Mike Leigh’s film All or Nothing and you will find this epiphany betraying the fallacy of a comfy or humdrum existence. The trouble with Sanctuary is that there seems to be no love between Janet and Michael in the first place. So that the continual question, “do you love me?” becomes, for the audience, “Do we care?”.

There is a point where there is genuine tension between the characters. It comes when Janet finds a card that Michael intends to send to his sister, who has just had a child. If only that card had been planted earlier in the play; at 45-minutes long, there is a painful lack of intrigue.

The line “Don’t make this harder than it already is” becomes a particularly difficult cliché to deliver when the amorphous “this” has not been fully explored. When Janet walks out at the end, it is not with the life-shattering door-slam that ends A Doll’s House: she is simply going back to her mum’s. One wishes, perhaps, that she’d stayed with her mum in the first place.

Running time: 45 mins.
Run ends Saturday 15 June 2013
Tickets on the door £7 (£5 concessions).
Whitespace Gallery: 11 Gayfield Square, EH1 3NT. 10pm.

Sanctuary returns during the fringe, playing Just Festival at St John’s, 12-14, 16 August. 6pm. Details on the Fringe website:


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Comments (1)

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  1. Chris Anderson says:

    I’m not sure if Mr Sutherland and I watched the same performance on Thursday night. While theatre is completely subjective, I find his review to be as amateur as he implies the play to be.

    First of all, I’m not sure on the relevance of his opinion on the set. It was never promoted or advertised as a high budget production. I’ve never seen a local company try to sell a preview of a show going to the fringe as a high profile production so I’m not sure why he would go into a performance with that expectation. Maybe Mr Sutherland has had more luck with his theatre than I have but I’ve not been so fortunate to see the calibre of theatre he feels he’s missing out on in the Leith area. I don’t believe that the set was meant to imply the complications of the situation, nor did it need to. He was looking for symbolism where there didn’t need to be any. The remote control was also real. I can understand that something painted white could be mistaken for paper.

    “The props, made or paper right down to the TV remote-control, do not imply that this is a complicated situation.” – I’m sure the editor of this review intended the word ‘or’ to be there.

    I have a feeling that J.A Sutherland may have read or seen ‘A Dolls House’ recently as it has as much relevance here as comparing the play to a ‘Dads Army’ episode. Why this has even been mentioned in this review is beyond me!

    The words ‘has not even allowed her toothbrush to move in’ in regards to the toothbrush incident are assumptions made by Mr Sutherland. I watched the play and it was clearly said that she stayed over often but never for how long. This left it open to interpretation. However, the logical scenario is that Janet would not have stayed for long, maybe a night or two at most, making it realistic that she would only bring a toothbrush when she needed to. There was no indication of the character Michael not allowing her to keep a toothbrush at his flat/home. So far, I think J.A Sutherlands’ grasp of the play is unclear.

    The main criticism i have, which I am surprised hasn’t been picked up, is the lack of development in the character, Janet. The play does lean more towards the perspective of the male being the diplomatic one with the female coming across as a bit naive and problematic just because she’s young. I am not surprised to learn that the writer of the play was male as this came across in the text. However, I do believe that there was love on that stage. The actors didn’t to show the audience love by continuos touching or long gazing looks to please Mr Sutherland. They used subtlety. The actors convinced me that they were comfortable with each others company and happy to be there which makes the demise of the relationship seem all the worse.

    I have no problem with reviews or people giving their opinion but one wishes, perhaps, this reviewer had stayed at home.