Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Standing as a lone panto-free bastion amid the festive glut, the Traverse's new production offers the odd stylistic nod Yulewards under the aegis of its splendidly camp, cross-dressing protagonist, played by veteran Dame Russell Hunter, while presenting a painfully realistic picture of notions of family togetherness and seasonal goodwill.
is most obviously about euthanasia, depicting a family brought to breaking-point by the strain of caring for a bedridden elderly parent. Far from coming over as issue-driven, it couches its questions amid the broader tensions between characters' moral attitudes and their various approaches to the necessity of compromise, meanwhile painting in a subtext about gender roles and escape.
As the unmarried son nursing his stroke-felled mother, Hunter sustains a brilliant balancing-act between histrionic hilarity and heart-rending pathos, his character the unlikely linchpin of a family circle that includes his brother John, sister-in-law Bunty and niece Irene, who offer moral support if little practical help. Despite seeking refuge from his (unseen) patient's incessant demands - in made-up memories of the days when he ran a boutique in Carnaby Street and hob-nobbed with the stars, has reached the end of his tether. His pleas for help in carrying through what he claims are his mother's own wishes bring the secrets and lies underlying the foursome's close-knit relationships to the surface.
Set in the northern port of Peterhead - where Irene has just been appointed the fishmarket's first saleswoman (her ambition contrasting starkly with John's defining lack of it) - the play juxtaposes the ordinary and extraordinary on multiple levels. Duthie achieves this through , whose increasingly frantic flamboyance blends with brisk practicality, as well as by sketching the various castles in the air to which the other three retreat when reality gets too much.
Guthie's dialogue displays an easy fluency of voice and idiom, with only the occasional stilted lapse, while complex characterisation lends the piece a satisfying weight. A little too much density at times, perhaps, where Duthie's efforts at narrative compression lead to the contrived exposition of questions that would surely have arisen before - whether Mother might be better off in a nursing-home, or the fact that keeps his cupboards consistently full by shoplifting. Such momentary creaks aside, however, it's an engrossing, subtly thought-provoking debut - or comeback - delivered with potent intensity.
To 20 Dec. Booking:0131-228 1404