SNUFF / AFTER THE END
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Opened 5 August, 2005
*** / ***

There is simply no escaping plays on this year's Fringe which in one way or another look at The State We're In. The Traverse's first press day began with a two-hander about racism against asylum-seekers, and climaxed with another set in a fallout shelter after the supposed detonation of a terrorist suitcase-bomb.

Davey Anderson's Snuff contains some excellent hard-edged bantering dialogue when it's not being self-consciously portentous. Billy, a soldier on leave from Iraq, visits his former best mate Kevin in a rundown Glasgow tower-block; other flats in the block have been done up for refugees, and Kevin resents this. Indeed, he resents most things: his betting-shop employers taking money off the poor, his sister for looking at men, Billy for looking at (or for) his sister. Kevin has a gun but no bullets, and a series of videotaped interviews that may or may not end with him murdering his interviewees. (Matters weren't helped by a technical glitch in the press performance which meant that we literally didn't get the full picture video-wise.) Anderson is good on the shifting dynamics of power-play, but the more subjects he stirs into the mix and the further up he ratchets the menace, the more he loses his touch. When Kevin makes Billy don an orange jumpsuit for the video camera, a line of credibility has been fatally crossed.

Later (or earlier, depending on the day the Traverse boasts a rotating performance schedule) in the same venue, Miriam Buether's magnificent white-silver cylinder of a set for After The End houses Mark and Louise for the two weeks necessary for the nuclear fallout to disperse. But Louise was unconscious (possibly passed out drunk from her work leaving party) when Mark carried her in, so she and we are uncertain whether the nuclear holocaust has really occurred or whether the obsessively fond Mark has simply abducted her.

Dennis Kelly's play (directed by Roxana Silbert for Paines Plough, and solidly performed by Tom Brooke and Kerry Condon) is largely unsurprising until its final scene. The preceding 80 minutes are little more than a steady ramp of tension and extremity. I entertained myself by constructing an elaborate thesis about the play as a metaphor for the conflict between western civilisation and violent extremism, each pushing the other further in a mutually antagonistic yet symbiotic relationship. But I don't believe it for a moment. It might equally be an analogy for the day-long theatregoing experience in the Traverse's underground venue complex: more and more unpleasantness, until we finally emerge bewildered into the daylight.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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