THEATRE: Anna Weiss; Traverse

Edinburgh Festival: Fringe
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The Independent Culture
It's been suggested that Mike Cullen's new play Anna Weiss does for recovered (or false) memory syndrome what David Mamet's Oleanna did for sexual harassment, but I'm not sure that the comparison does the Scottish playwright any favours. The traditional "issue" play is a crude vehicle at the best of times, and Oleanna is as shorn of subtlety as Mamet gets.

Not so Anna Weiss, a piece of theatre that's as intriguing and slippery as any you are likely to see this year. Certainly, Cullen is interested in the rights and responsibilities of the accuser and the accused in this intractable, very specific kind of sexual abuse case. But, for him, the issues are a jumping-off point for more abstract speculations. In particular, Anna Weiss questions what happens to a society that loses faith in the idea of shared memories.

Mark Lees's set is as spare and cool as Cullen's dialogue and Vicky Featherstone's nicely acted production. A plain red rectangular stage sits beneath a canopy of cloth. This is the flat of Anna Weiss (Anne Marie Timoney), a thirtysomething hypnotherapist, which she shares with twentysomething Lynne (Iona Carbarns). Anna has helped Lynne to recover childhood "memories" of sexual abuse by her father, David (John Stahl). The two women are packing up their belongings on the eve of starting a new life in another town. But before they go, Lynne has invited her father around to confront him.

When we first see Lynne, she's rummaging through a tea chest, looking for a photograph that she is sure she remembers having put there. It looks like a warning of what's to come, a potent symbol of how fallible memory can be. But is it? Because when we do discover what happened to the picture, we find that Anna moved it, then coolly watched Lynne's frantic search for it.

It's that kind of play: as soon as you think you've seen what point Cullen is making with some little detail or other, he whips the carpet from under your feet. From the first minute, it's obvious that Anna is a man-hating, self-justifying passive-aggressive, willing to use her age and supposed worldliness to exercise power over her young protege. And yet, one final twist transforms Anna herself into a victim.

You're not sure whether you've watched a masterpiece of even-handedness or an anti-theory polemic. It's as perplexing as one of those pictures that resembles a rabbit or a duck depending on which way you look at it. Venue 15. 0131-228 1404 Adrian Turpin

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