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Theatre Review: How To Disappear ***

Michael Cox reviews 'a good production of an undercooked, over-peppered script'.

It is a nice tonic having the Traverse present a non-seasonal production at Christmas. However, it would have been even nicer to say that they have a terrific production on hand.

What they have instead is a rather confused work. Morna Pearson’s play How To Disappear is filled with great ideas—ideas that have become muddled and lost.

The story focuses on three characters. Robert is a recluse, having refused to leave his room for years. Besides a tarantula, a snake and an iguana, his only connection comes from his younger sister Isla, who is struggling in school and barely holding on.

Enter Jessica, an almost pantomime-like antagonist who works as a benefits assessor and prides herself on disproving claimants. Her current target is Robert, who she is convinced should be out working and rising up the capitalist ladder. Things don’t go to plan.

To say more would be cheating, other than to state that Pearson’s play takes a whole group of topics—mental health, school bullying, benefits, care and political ideology, amongst others—and manages to scramble the whole lot into a mess of a script that mixes genres and themes. Is this political satire? Redemption tale? A look at what might have been and what could be? Pearson seems to have decided to throw them all into a dramaturgical stew without any seasoning or attempt at a coherent taste, giving us instead something that’s overlong and preachy, all the while scoring no points on any of her ideas.

And yet, the production is enjoyable. Director Gareth Nicholls does manage to keep every plate within the script spinning while the design team have created a world that feels lived in and is interesting to look at.

However, the real heroes here are its three cast members. Sally Reid manages to find humanity and dignity in a shallow character that feels like a political stooge, and Kirsty Mackay’s Isla has moments of genuine heartbreak and frustration that gives the production a needed sense of poignancy. But the production belongs to Owen Whitelaw, whose performance as Robert is tremendous and worth braving a good production of an undercooked, over-peppered script.

How To Disappear performs at the Traverse until December 23rd.

Tags: theatre

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