Portrait Of A Woman/Entertaining Angels/
Viper's Opium/Here Lies Henry
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
August, 1996

Under the terms of the Scottish Arts Council's new funding system, theatre companies are invited to apply to cover specific constituencies, both geographical and artistic. This is no problem for Gerry Mulgrew of Communicado, who is also committed to vibrant and intelligent storytelling.

Communicado's Fringe show this year, Michel Vinaver's Portrait Of A Woman, cuts rapidly between courtroom scenes in a French murder trial (based on a real 1951 case) and episodes in the life of Sophie Auzanneau which led up to her killing her lover. Stage space is swiftly and repeatedly redefined as Veronica Leer's Sophie passes through her life and her trial without quite engaging with their realities, infuriating her prosecutors by her inability to recognise remorse.

Twin time-lines also form the structural spine of Entertaining Angels, from Nicola McCartney and Lucy McLellan's rising Glasgow-based LookOut company. After last year's Easy, this piece sees the company's reach exceeding its grasp: scenes from a Liverpool family's life full of petty tensions, but no grand dysfunctions alternate, and sometimes coincide, on stage, with moments from the past recounting the depressive disintegration of mother Grainne. For years father Eric has let his younger children believe their mother is dead, until cousin Daniel arrives from Armagh to break the news which eldest child Grace has always known: that Grainne, if not exactly well, is certainly alive.

Family drama mingles with the confining nature of ideologies and a slightly uncomfortable use of religious mysticism as a metaphor for personal interaction. McCartney and McLellan's script is immensely thoughtful; McCartney is also skilled at eliciting nicely understated performances from her company. However, as yet LookOut remains a company of great promise rather than guaranteed delivery.

Starving Artists are now Traverse regulars in August, more or less alternating between solo pieces for performer Mark Pinkosh and two-handers. Viper's Opium teams Pinkosh with Kathryn Howden as the eccentrically appealing Cricket so appealing, in fact, that the virtually unheard-of occurs: a hetero sex scene in a Starving Artists play.

Cricket and Curtis are a couple who could almost be perfect, but are crippled by Curtis's rootlessness and Cricket's co-dependence. Pinkosh's partner, writer Godfrey Hamilton, is as richly eloquent as ever, but the overall picture feels a little inchoate. Nevertheless, Viper's Opium is a deeply affecting work informed by a terrifically human sensitivity.

The joker in the Traverse's pack is Daniel MacIvor of Canadian duo Da Da Kamera. Here Lies Henry is a magnificently oddball construction. MacIvor, as Henry Tom Gallery II, builds from comically uncertain beginnings into a torrent of preposterous mendacity, following a mysterious commission which he reveals an hour later. Richard Feren contributes monumental sound sculpture, also treating isolated phrases from MacIvor's radio microphone to create the eerie effect Of a disembodied chorus. One of the loopier joys of the Fringe is finding a show which leaves one baffled but grinning widely; Here Lies Henry is a perfect example of the type.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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