Aug 13 2016 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩  Should be seen

Spotlites (Venue 278) Thurs 4 – Sun 28 Aug 2016
Review by Hugh Simpson

Two excellent performances drive Unseen, Ashley McLean’s two hander at Spotlites which deals with the ‘unseen’ nature of homelessness.

The situation and backstory of the central character Holly are filled in with economy and without sensationalism; her journey from having a flat and a job to living on the streets, largely through the 21st century miracle that is the zero-hours contract, is an appallingly believable one.

Lara Fabiani and Ashley McLean. Photo: @Unseen_Play

Lara Fabiani and Ashley McLean. Photo: @Unseen_Play

This, however, is not the focus of the play, which revolves around the interaction between Holly, played by McLean herself, and Maria (Lara Fabiani), a former acquaintance who bumps into Holly on an Edinburgh street.

Both characters are three-dimensional and less predictable in their attitudes than might be expected. However, the script is far from perfect. The mixture of dialogue and monologue works well, and the combination of the workaday and the poetic is also fine. However, there are moments of stilted language that do not sound like anything anybody would ever say, and some passages seem to have wandered in from another play altogether.

The direction – by the performers in collaboration with Wendy Turner – is more than adequate, but tends towards the matter-of-fact. Too often a performer leaves the stage unnecessarily when it is always more than clear whether what is taking place is a conversation or a monologue.

That this is so obvious hints at the real strength of the piece, which lies in the quality of the acting.

the flickering light of defiance

McLean’s portrayal of Holly shows rare insight and integrity. It is believable, multi-faceted and frighteningly raw at times, with the flickering light of defiance almost extinguished by bitterness and fatalism. In particular, the performance is pitched just right for the intimate venue – involving the audience without overwhelming them, eliciting empathy without looking for pity or propagandising overtly.

As Maria, Fabiani is nearly as impressive. Her depiction of the character’s guilt, helplessness and righteous fury makes for another plausible portrayal.

Both characters avoid being one-dimensional or stereotypical; Holly is portrayed as someone whose life choices have never been as straightforward as many politicians or parts of the media would like to imagine – but she is never shown as innocent – while Maria’s self-obsession does not stop her being likeable.

There are so many right choices being made here. When it seems that a resolution of any kind will appear too pat and too forced, an ending is found that works well on its own terms. Any faults in the writing from such an inexperienced playwright can readily be excused in what could easily have come across as merely a consciousness-raising piece of agitprop, but becomes something more.

It certainly succeeds on a political and human level, and this is only enhanced by the artistry involved.

Running time: 55 minutes (no interval)
Spotlites (Venue 278), 22-26 George Street, EH2 2PQ
Thursday 4 – Sunday 28 August 2016
Daily at 7.35 pm
Book tickets on the EdFringe website: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/unseen
Company website: https://unseenplay.wordpress.com
Twitter: @Unseen_Play
Facebook: UnseenPlay


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