Theatre Review: Shining Souls Traverse Theatre

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The Independent Culture
Love, it seems, will always find a way. Still. Yet it's an uphill struggle for everyone in Chris Hannan's bravely commercial but clever new play - his first for five years - as the tangles and tatters of screwed up 1990s affairs are exposed in all their ignominy. Anne Mary is getting wed to Billy, who brings her flowers and says pretty things. But her other beau, also called Billy, has talked her into calling it off. The purchase of a wardrobe will sort things out, but the fates are against them from the off. Meanwhile, perennial hustler Charlie inadvertently prophesies his mother's impending demise while scrounging a tenner off his ex. A suit must be bought.

What follows is a day out to Glasgow's Barra's marketplace, where a whole lot more than second-hand tat is up for grabs. Anne Mary's born-again daughter offers hope to Charlie, who in turn sets Anne Mary's heart afluttering, taking her into even more complicated waters. Then there's Prophet John, a classic soap-box orator and social misfit, who may or may not have mystical insights. None of them knows what they want. They just want more.

The first-half exposition of Ian Brown's swan-song Traverse production is almost delightfully cheesy, each character introduced by a series of punchline-rife scenelets, and a final musical moment to top the lot. The second half, though, brings the full mess of everyone's lives to the boil as various couplings struggle to come together yet always miss their intended mark. Hannan grafts non-naturalistic dialogue on to naturalistic characters, allowing them to voice their inner demons in fragmented, contradictory fashion. It's as if a wrestling match has been going on in Hannan's head as to what to say and how to say it. Just when things are shifting into deeper waters, it's pulled back with a gag.

Alison Peebles and Stuart McQuarrie in the two central roles effectively show off the unhinged terror of the desperately self-aware, their minds slapped from place to place like a pinball while they look for somewhere to settle, someone to share it with, and something to make everything all right.

On the downside, the set is cheap and shabby looking, and some of the lesser characters aren't fleshed out enough to make their function clear. But the characters themselves seem aware of that, each absorbing one spiritual crutch or another into their personal make-up to make it real to them, while longing for another dimension. Let's hope they never find it, for it's the search that gives them meaning.

A seriously funny play, and a welcome return for Chris Hannan.

n To 31 Aug. Booking: 0131-228 1404

NEIL COOPER

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