Theatre Review – Any Given Day

Jun 3 2010 | By More

* * * *

Kathryn Howden and Lewis Howden as Sadie and Bill. Photo credit: Richard Campbell

Traverse Theatre
Review by Thom Dibdin

Thunderous in its dark, brooding intensity and emotionally sapping outcome, Linda McLean’s pair of conjoined plays for the Traverse is a twisted night of theatre which explores our fear of the unknown with a chilling eye for detail.

This is not fun-show, good-times entertainment. Indeed, in some ways, it is quite a hateful piece of theatre, one that becomes uncomfortable to watch at times.

Which is all to the good, as it is the power and emotional punch of the whole production which makes it so. McLean’s intricately structured script would be as nothing without impeccable performances from Kathryn Howden and Kate Dickie, lucid direction from Dominic Hill and a set, by Jonathan Fensom, which is meticulous in its detail.

Presented on paper as two separate plays, rather than two scenes of the same play, Any Given Day would be as nothing if it were to be carved in half. The source of its power is in a structure which has the guts to build to a climax at the end of the first play – leaving the audience’s imaginations to watch its full horror explode in slow motion as they witness the calmly building joys of the second.

The production is the first in which Edinburgh-based sibling actors, Kathryn and Lewis Howden have appeared together. They play a mentally challenged couple, Sadie and Bill, whose care is now in the community. They live in a tower-block flat with the occasional call from a health visitor but their only real contact with humanity through Bill’s niece, Jackie (Kate Dickie).

Kathryn Howden is particularly strong in her physical portrayal of the slightly more challenged Sadie. There is an all too real sense of Sadie’s naive toddler-like simplicity. Neither milk their characters, but Lewis Howden doesn’t have the same physical presence to convince in way Kathryn does, although his delivery of McLean’s nicely observed dialogue is spot on.

Together they build a vivid account of the sometimes tortuous truth of such an existence. There is a nicely judged sense for the absurdities of their situation, which is neither patronising nor judgemental. Rather it is a universal, if simplified, version of life as it is lived.

The difficulty is that they perform it almost too well. It is utterly banal as they make tea, discuss what to give Jackie when she arrives and argue pointlessly over the same ground, time after time.

You begin to wonder at the wisdom of billing this as a pair with the Traverse’ previous production: the super-finessed articulacy Edward Albee’s The Goat or Who Is Alice?.

Such banality does have a reason. And the anticipated terror, when it arrives, still shocks – with Jamie Quinn utterly venal as the intruder.

Phil McKee and Kate Dickie as Dave and Jackie. Photo: Richard Campbell

Play two sees Jackie at the end of her lunchtime shift in the local wine bar, with Phil McKee as her boss, Dave. Dickie is utterly superb as the fragile, vulnerable ex-nurse, defending herself with pre-emptive verbal strikes from the situation developing into one she is clearly all-too familiar with.

Suddenly, with a preposterous verbal riposte, the comparison to The Goat becomes rather less audacious. And the tension of the piece begins to bite as the reality of all the different situations these people are in begins to become apparent.

McKee is quite believable, and does what is necessary to keep the production on course. Part of that is to allow the focus to remain on Dickie, whose fears are founded on the very worst of what she thinks could happen.

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It is not this fear which is the real threat, however: that horror has already happened and is quite beyond her imagination. And with every line, every new piece of information – both told and revealed – Dickie and McLean escalate the level of that horror.

This is sometimes sickening to watch. But the reason for doing so is that in its depiction of a tragedy of the vulnerable of the society, a tragedy that could happen on any given day, this shows what the policy of care in the community really means.

Run continues to Saturday 19.

Ticket details on the Traverse Website here.

An shorter version of this review appears on The Stage Website here.


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