The Found Man, Traverse Theatre

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The Independent Culture

A near-naked man is found half-drowned on a beach, and is shortly accused, on no evidence, of starting a blaze like a beacon, its flames destroying a newly-built house. Rumours and accusations spread like wildfire. Before long the frighteningly fertile imaginations of the townsfolk have turned him into some sort of devil, damning him to a tortured death.

The house was intended for a man called Sinclair, a man seen almost as a saviour summoned by the pillars of the community. They have pinned on him their hopes for a better future. In what way he might improve its lot is unclear but "waiting for Sinclair", as the play could be called, is interrupted by a violent storm, the feared drowning of a girl, the fire and subsequent manhunt, and a good deal of soul-baring.

The Found Man is Glasgow-born Galgani's third play for the Traverse, a theatre company that has a sure touch when it comes to staging new writers. But no matter how dramatic the tale's unfolding or how precise the performances, the biblical references to redemption and rebirth become ponderous, and the metaphor of the sea something of an empty void. But Galgani writes well about the prejudice that pervades every inward-looking community threatened by the unknown.

Manipulation is in the air on this coast, from the bullying senior townsman Rafter to the spunky Mary, played by Molly Innes. Practically everyone here is scared of something, rushing to cover up whatever part he or she played in the ugly slaughter of an innocent man.

Philip Wilson's design threatens to disrupt the flow, though, with fiddly furrowed fields popping up through the harsh wooden set, a townhall clock emerging only to be smashed by the marauding townsfolk. In stark contrast the pale white lighting gives the forces of darkness at work. But as the production's director as well, Wilson draws fine acting from the whole company, chillingly portraying the uncomfortable relationships and rising tensions between these uncompromising characters.

Though this production is given a 19 century Scottish setting the play could be about any closeted community anywhere, any time.

Traverse Theatre til 28 August