Sea Wall, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Alice Jones
Thursday 13 August 2009 00:00

A bare stage, and a man in jeans, T-shirt and baseball boots. This, it turns out, is all you need for as engaging and devastating a piece of theatre as you're likely to find at this year's Fringe.

It's only half-an-hour long, but Simon Stephens's one-man play Sea Wall packs an enormous emotional punch. First given a tiny run during the Bush Theatre's Broken Space season last year, the tale of Alex and his beautiful wife and daughter begins like any other with intimate revelations about his relationship, jokey recollections of the birth of his child and sun-dappled memories of holidays with his lightly nutty ex-military father-in-law in Carcassonne.

Roaring indistinctly in the background to all this is the sea. Without warning, the happiest humans can be caught up in its unpredictable tides or perhaps cast mercilessly off the edge of the sea wall, where, our hero learns, the sea-bed shelves away into dark nothingness.

The ever-exciting playwright Simon Stephens (Motortown, On the Shore of the Wide World, Harper Regan) has a pitch-perfect ear for narrative and holds back crucial plot details, while spinning off both into inconsequential and amusing anecdotes and existential angst.

In Andrew Scott, eyes glittering, arms fidgeting, his tale finds a charmingly genial raconteur, a kind of stand-up manqué who gives occasional, heart-breaking flashes of the yawning black hole at his core.

Under the glare of the house lights, the audience sat silent and completely rapt throughout. A spellbinding reminder of the power of story-telling in all its glorious simplicity

To 16 August (0131-228 1404)

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