The Traverse Theatre has always been the powerhouse of new Scottish writing for the stage and, as it enters its 50th year, now under the tutelage of its impressive new artistic director Orla O’Loughlin, it is once again at the top of its game.
Its festival centrepiece Ciara is a complex and rewarding dramatic monologue by the aptly-named David Harrower which charts the changing psychological landscape of the scarred streets of Glasgow through the story of a gangster, Mick, and his journey from the world of ordinary decent crime to the moral quagmire of drug-dealing.
That sounds grim. And in lesser hands it could be. But Harrower is a clever and subtle writer who moves skilfully through deft observation, dark psychology, bitter humour and violent melodrama. He is brilliantly served by a formidable piece of acting from the award-winning Scots TV and stage actress Blythe Duff (Jackie Reid in Taggart) as the art gallery-owning daughter who begins as a sardonic scrutineer of the scene but slowly emerges as involved, compromised and tainted by a world in which the old criminal codes of honour dissolve and require the sacrifice of even the protagonist’s children.
O’Loughlin, as director, navigates a skilful path through the play’s jump-cut writing which is as full of ambiguity as the metaphor of the painting of a giant woman draped across the city which resurfaces throughout the work. The play is dotted with references to Glasgow, which kept the Edinburgh audience chortling, but as the classical Greek dress of the central character reminded us, the themes are epic and universal. Compelling quality drama.