Edinburgh: Close encounters between Caledonia and Catalonia

THE MEETING ROYAL LYCEUM THEATRE

THE MEETING is enigma wrapped in a mystery. In this play by the Catalan dramatist, Lluisa Cunille, a businessman goes through a series of seemingly random encounters - with (among others) an old fellow who is convinced there is buried treasure in the park; a youth waiting by a photo booth who refuses to help him win a bet by pretending to be his son; and an insurance salesman in a railway station bar who longs to take a break from his life by passing on his suitcase, full of clients and responsibilities, to the protagonist.

Xavier Alberti's superbly paced production - using a translation by John London and Scottish actors - communicates to perfection the intriguing mix of the ominous and the playful in Cunille's script. Sharply defined against a chaste white background and conveyed with minimal props, the meetings are full of naggingly muffled echoes and oblique resemblances that begin to gesture towards an underlying web of complicity and shared pasts.

The dramatist's imagination is drawn to anonymous transit areas, where people are thrown together - the platform of an underground station, railway lavatories. The Meeting is, consequently, haunted and amused by the ease with which an impostor can create false relationships, by the difficulty of refuting an alleged recognition, and by the desire to flip into another's life. John Stahl's powerfully performed protagonist tells the youth a story of how he found a comb and a telephone number in a stranger's jacket and passed himself off as its owner at a party of old school friends. You remember this when - in the railway loos - the protagonist insinuates that he was at school with the insurance salesman who thinks that getting rid of a life is as easy as handing over a bag.

Concealed wagers give an added frisson of insecurity to the universe Cunille concocts. How do you know that you aren't being used just to win a bet, your reactions monitored by snickering off-stage gamblers? And the sinister ambiguities of "noises off" permeate the piece from the moment in the first episode where the old man recalls killing a couple of people in the war, and being unable to open the door behind which they lay audibly dying, in case they turned out to be combatants from his own side.

So much for the enigma. The mystery is why the programmers of the Festival think that this play tells us anything about cultural identity. The piece was commissioned, as part of a Caledonia/Catalonia exchange project, along with David Greig's The Speculator. About as culturally specific as Limbo or End Game, The Meeting tells us more about the latitude with which writers interpret their briefs than about nationhood. At the matinee I attended, it met with a fluctuating response. The man sitting next to me alternated between snoring slumber and intense note-taking interest - with many a complicitous nod in my direction. I thought that he would soon claim to have been at school with me. Surreally, we seemed to be taking part in a play by Lluisa Cunille.

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