The Scent of Roses

Mar 10 2022 | By More

★★★☆☆    Lacks urgency

Royal Lyceum Theatre: Sat 5 – Sat 19 Mar 2022
Review by Hugh Simpson

The Scent of Roses, from writer-director Zinnie Harris at the Lyceum, features a top-notch cast and dialogue that often rings true regarding how self-delusion and self-evasion wreck our relationships with each other and the world around us. However, the production as a whole never truly ignites.

A wife who locks her husband in their bedroom, in order to confront resurfaced demons from the past, forms the first in a series of interlocking encounters examining the nature of truth and the fictions we construct about ourselves.

Peter Forbes and Neve McIntosh. Pic: Tim Morozzo.

Having the writer as director always helps in presenting the dialogue sympathetically, and this is certainly enhanced by the cast.

Neve McIntosh, Maureen Beattie and Saskia Ashdown seem incapable of giving performances that are anything other than first-rate, and McIntosh’s exasperated wife, Beattie’s conflicted mother and Ashdown’s troubled teacher are all compelling. Peter Forbes, as the husband who seems incapable of the smallest degree of self-knowledge, and Leah Byrne as the daughter who has become collateral damage from her parents’ toxic relationship, also impress.

However, the downside of having one person fulfil both creative roles is that any faults in the script tend to be magnified. Harris has of course been thoroughly accomplished in both roles in the past, but there is a great deal here that is less than convincing.

unwelcome recent trend

The scenes are all two-handers featuring characters talking at each other and failing to listen; the result is uncomfortably static. This is magnified by being yet another example of that unwelcome recent trend for productions that stretch to nearly two hours without an interval. In truth, it seems even longer.

Saskia Ashdown and Leah Byrne. Pic: Tim Morozzo.

Billed as ‘darkly funny’ it is neither notably dark nor genuinely funny. Obvious jokes about veganism or quinoa land with as much of a thud as some of the more contrived plot points.

While there are interesting things in the script about contemporary concerns – the nature of consent, the climate crisis, authority figures who get away with blatant untruths – Harris cannot seem to resist making them boldly explicit. As a result. some remarks seem portentous, ponderous and out of place, striving for a profundity the characters never quite earn.

The main problem is that, as one character admits, the people on display are uniformly ‘awful’, and it is a struggle to spend so much time in their company. It is perfectly possible to construct a riveting drama around such unsympathetic characters, but the circle dance displayed here is just too slow-moving to compel either dramatically or emotionally.

hostage to fortune

Another hostage to fortune to be found in the script comes when it is stressed (more than once) that any story can be reframed as something else entirely through a simple shift in perspective. It is worrying how, with the simplest of tweaks, this whole scenario could be reframed as an old-fashioned, trousers-round-the-ankles, ‘the vicar’s at the door’ farce.

The commitment of the performances keeps such thoughts at bay, however, and other elements of the production show real skill. Tom Piper’s set, slowly dismantling as the play unfolds, is a particular joy, and Niroshini Thambar’s sound design is exemplary.

There is enough craft on display to hold the interest. However, there is an inescapable feeling that this should have been so much better.

Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes (no interval)
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay Street, EH3 9AX
Saturday 5 – Saturday 19 March 2022.
Evenings: Tue-Sat 7.30pm; Matinees: Wed, Sat 2.30pm.
Socially Distanced Performances:
Wednesday 9, Tuesday 15.
Information and tickets: Book here.

Peter Forbes and Maureen Beattie. Pic: Tim Morozzo.


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