THEATRE / Bodies and souls: Joseph Farrell on Unidentified Human Remains . . . at the Traverse, Edinburgh

STRANGELY for a play in which undressed bodies are so much on display, it is the disembodied voice, emerging from the shadows or carried between the bleeps of an answering machine, which makes the deepest, most disturbing impact in Brad Fraser's snappily titled Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love.

Edmonton, in Fraser's vision, is a city of desultory chatter between desperate humans whose needs are eventually contained in one pithy line - Call me. At one point, the hubbub of intercut talk is stilled so that, one after another, each character repeats the same words but each expresses a separate desire. Call me, says the lesbian who is in love with a straight woman. Call me, says young Kane, certain of his worship of David but uncertain of his own sexuality. Call me, says a woman to her ex- husband, who is now busy deceiving another woman.

Edmonton could be any contemporary city, or indeed ancient Athens or Thebes in the grip of a plague or under a curse. One plague is the threat of sexual disease, the other the fear of psychopathic brutality. The title points to both. Radio bulletins and rumours tell of a serial killer on the loose. Meanwhile, the lush, ambiguous Benita (Irene Macdougall) recounts, with an icy smile, spine- chilling urban myths of decapitated children and violent death.

At times, Benita is drawn into the action, at times she lounges outside, giggling at the nonsense and horror of it all. A futon bed is given centre stage in Nick Sargent's design, with the spaces at the sides variously indicating singles bars, aerobic gyms and elevated bridges. The common desire is to move from the side to the central bed, but the individual ambitions conflict. David is gay and yearns for Bernie, who is just separated from Lindie, but he shares a place with Candy who attracts both a homosexual woman and a heterosexual man.

There are sufficient interlocking tales here to fill a modern Decameron, but Fraser's principal aims are to illustrate an urban milieu and to draw attention to his own style and approach. At times, the cast stop being characters become a kind of chorus, reciting stray lines or even individual words one after the other.

There are scenes of hysterical comedy, caricaturing television sitcom, and an atmosphere of gothic horror. The only let-down is the ending when the focus narrows to the serial killer and his protectors. Tom Smith as the credulous Kane and Dougray Scott as the elegantly cynical David are especially effective in this intriguing, unsettling production.

Continues to 20 December (Box office: 031-228 1404).

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