THEATRE / The racket sport: Paul Taylor reviews Simon Donald's new play The Life of Stuff at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

A TRIP to the Traverse to see The Life of Stuff would not be the most tactful treat you could give to somebody suffering from eczema - or who had recently had a toe amputated. But just about anyone else, with a broad enough mind, would be sure to have a ball. Simon Donald's blissfully funny new play plunges you into the dangerous world of urban racketeers. At times, you get the impression that a gangster film like The Long Good Friday has been re-written by a Scottish Joe Orton, except that with Donald, compassion keeps leaking through the comic callousness. His writing also has a more garrulous love of gags, an odd inclination towards the mystical end of scientific theory, and an acute nose for what is niffy in Thatcherism's economic and spiritual legacy to the young.

The apparent ruler of the roost is Willie Dobie (excellent Duncan Duff), a champagne-swigging, drug-snorting yuppie who has made good by doing bad. He owns tenement blocks stuffed with 'dolies' from whom he extracts exorbitant rents (paid for by the DHSS) and little favours , in return for him helping them out of the spots of 'bother' he has created in the first place. When the play opens, he has bumped off the leader of a rival racket and a party is in the offing in his newly acquired warehouse.

Flitting around the various floors and roof of this establishment, John Mitchell's impishly paced, beautifully acted production introduces you to the various flies entangled in Dobie's web. In the basement, in nothing but his underpants, and making a cack-handed attempt to shave off his sudsy hair, the most sympathetic of these is Frazer (a wonderfully desperate Brian McCardie), who is horrified to learn that the van he incinerated, supposedly so that Dobie could pick up the insurance, actually contained the stunned body of the rival. A murderer malgre lui, he is sweating on the reward of two tickets to Ibiza where he and his gay partner, Raymond, are to start a new career as exotic dancers.

The only bit of Raymond we get to see, however, is his toe which has been hacked off by Dobie's eczema-ridden henchman Leonard (Stuart McQuarrie), a youth who likes to practise with his Black and Decker on the human face. The detached toe is one of several props that are deployed with the hilarious tastelessness of the corpse's false teeth in Loot. Leonard's scab-infested articles of clothing, for example, give rise to a number of healthily sick jokes, not least when one of the girls Dobie has invited to the party is encouraged to use his cast-off Y-fronts to mop up a drug-induced nose bleed. Not knowing of his 'dermal plight', she apologises for the stain she's made and asks, 'Is it okay if I keep them?'

There is often a friendly, gregarious feel to the music of Donald's dialogue that plays interestingly against the brutal unsociability of what is being conveyed. Here is Leonard talking to someone who's just noticed Raymond's chopped-off digit: 'Only a toe. Well he was in his jim jams and I thought he'd need all his fingers for stirring and stuff' (Raymond being a chemist who has been pressurised to manufacture drugs for the party). 'My, my, haha,' says Dobie, wrapping a proprietary arm round the two younger girls he's lured to the warehouse with the promise of sex and drugs. 'It's great to see that a lifetime's dead-end disappointment and unemployability hasn't dented your sense of humour'. An underlying refusal to despair offsets the bleak inferno-like ending. The main villain's vision of mystical unity - that everything in the universe is made of the same stuff and men are composed of 'stardust' - is contradicted by his own vicious actions, but the play itself does not quite discredit it. One remembers that the two girls are not burned to death but head off home sharing nothing more addictive than a bag of wine gums.

Booking: 031-228 1404.

(Photograph omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform