SPLENDOUR
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
August, 2000

Abi Morgan's piece for Paines Plough, directed by Vicky Featherstone, is a kind of post-Yugoslav play, although the location is never specified as gunfire grows ever closer to the presidential palace and the great man's wife attempts to entertain an English war photographer on a portrait assignment, concealing the growing certainty that he has fled and the evening will end with a non-photographic shot.

Morgan plays games with both time and language; scenes are replayed several times with slight variations, gradually building up a Cubist picture of the quartet of characters: photographer Kathryn (a nicely jaded Faith Flint), dictator's wife Micheleine (Mary Cunningham, giving a first-rate performance of brittle, unsettled hostess-dom), her supposed best friend Genevieve (Myra McFadyen), whose husband was evidently murdered years ago on state orders, and kleptomaniac interpreter Gilma Eileen Walsh, who does a fine job of gradually revealing her character's giggling vapidity to be a mask worn over ethnic-based bitterness. And uncertainty of her own.

What may seem at first to be simply a highly skilled technical exercise on a worthy contemporary motif proves in fact to have a quiet but riveting cumulative power over its 90 minutes.

Written for the Financial Times Web site, ft.com

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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