Edinburgh Festival 97 / Timeless Gateway

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Peter Stein, Mark Morris, Robert Lepage, Peter Sellars - you expect to find one or more of these names on the Official Festival programme in the way that you expect to find the Scott Memorial on Princes Street. But pieces collaboratively devised by small-scale companies closer to home are something of a turn up for the books in these quarters.

True, the first we saw this year - Tamasha Theatre Company's Partition - was originally intended to be a play by Harwant Bains and only evolved into a more rehearsal-based project when the commission ran into trouble. But now, with Suspect Culture's Timeless - where a quartet of actors shares the stage with a string quartet and where David Greig's text is sometimes calculatedly drowned out by the music or, for long stretches, replaced by dumbshow that symbolises shifts in relationships and stylises behavioural tics - we have a show that was collectively developed from the outset.

The result is interesting throughout, intermittently amusing and / or moving and as stiflingly self-conscious as its own foursome of twentysomethings, for ever anxiously checking their reflections in the windows of the trendy cafe where we see them meeting over about a 10- year period. A previous article suggested that Timeless "looks the way Friends might do if Harold Pinter were on the writing team". But, at certain points, it felt to me that the piece was splashing around in Virginia Woolf's The Waves as it focuses on the collective, then painfully splintered consciousness of a group of people who once shared an intense, out-of-time moment. Its playing around with sequence - the leap back in the middle to the younger selves on the brink of their epiphanic experience - reminded me less of the reversed narrative of Pinter's Betrayal than of an equivalent leap into the future in the middle of Priestley's Time and the Conways.

With its sharply observed flinchings of gesture and of speech, the tone of Timeless plays off the comic defensiveness of this ordinary Scots foursome against the passionate lyric intensity of their undiluted (except to us) inner feelings. Exiles from the timeless moment, they are economically located in their own times by details such as the reiterated, worn-out joke about the beer from the Slovac Republic: "Can't pronounce the fucker's name, but it tastes OK."

Technically, there is much to be admired in Graham Eatough's production. As in a recent staging of Samuel Barber's A Hand at Bridge, where the playing foursome sat at angled separate tables, the excellent actors are arranged here in non-naturalistic groupings expressive of the current group dynamics. I liked the way the shimmering of the string quartets dissolved into a sort of fidgety electronic nagging between episodes. But the piece feels preconceived to within an inch of its life. A partiality for patterns seems to predominate over a searching interest in the people. For me, Timeless did not take off until near the end as the foursome fantasised about a future meeting: apocalyptic emotions comically colliding with guarded social banalities ("Thank you for asking, Mark, I'm quite reborn.") And all the more poignant for taking place only in their heads. Ends tomorrow (0131-473 2000) Paul Taylor

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