The Traverse always occupies a special place as the only producing theatre in Edinburgh to offer a Fringe programme of its own. However, labelling its 2004 Festival selection "Travel Agency" is an attempt to put a positive spin on a more worrying underlying development. It's presenting works from Ireland, Norway, Canada, Palestine and South Africa, but the only Scottish fare comes from the Traverse's in-house productions. There are fears that major Scottish companies are beginning to shun the Fringe.
It must be said, also, that this year's programme at the venue isn't as electrifying as we have come to expect. The flagship presentation in the main Traverse 1 space, Shimmer by Linda McLean, walks the line between being intriguingly crafted and annoyingly self-conscious in its writing to no worthwhile end. It was almost a deliberate decision on my part to respond positively to its studied quirkiness, but in the end, there is something discernibly beating beneath its iridescent skin.
The situation is simple: three generations of women – Hen, Missy and Petal – find their pilgrimage to Iona (for Petal is dying) delayed by floods, and take refuge in a lochside bed and breakfast house, where three generations of men (though, unlike the women, not explicitly related) are musing on their own issues. The action loops back so that we see variations on the same themes of personal interaction three times over. Characters also keep remarking on each other's soliloquies, on whether or not they say given lines "out loud", so that there's a constant interplay of commentary going on.
In its way, the whole play is about what's said and what left unsaid, about what happens and what doesn't: grief real or anticipated, connotations intended or not, connections made or inferred, and so on. This is how McLean's text becomes truly rich rather than just showy. Lynne Parker's production likewise tries to play things naturalistically for the most part, without signposting the structural legerdemain more than is necessary. At two hours without interruption, though, the Mobius-strip dialogue can grow disorienting, and it's possible to miss the unobtrusive conclusion altogether. In other years, this would be a respectable second-rank Traverse offering; interesting as it is, it can't really bear the burden of leading a Fringe season.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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