Glasgow's Suspect Culture company rounds off the first year of Edinburgh Festival offerings in the Gateway Theatre's medium-sized end-on black box space with Timeless, an intriguing piece which both mines and undermines a vein of personal emotional mythology.
Not so much scripted as scored (text by David Greig, music by Nick Powell) for four actors and a string quartet, the 90 minutes of the work proper are heralded as the audience arrives by a wordless segment in which the actors inhabit solitary but interlinked territories, each displaying a distinctive physical tic and recoiling upon contact with another (slightly suggestive of a twentysomething version of Beckett's Quad). Scenes are then played out in present-past-future order, beginning with a reunion of the four characters in their favourite cafe-bar at which two principal incidents are discussed: a spur-of-the-moment evening-till-dawn beach picnic and a semi-obscene photograph of one of their number found by another in a magazine.
As we are presented, next, with the meeting around which these events pivot (the afternoon before the picnic but after the photograph), and finally with a kind of fugue of the respective characters' fantasy scenarios surrounding a future reunion, certain words recur to complement the gestural vocabulary already built up: "inevitable", "pornographic", "timeless" itself. The moment of true serenity is that captured in the picture of Stella, but the characters invest their individual and collective golden significance in "that evening on the beach". The poignancy of communal nostalgia is strongly evoked in counterpoise with a deep sensation of its arbitrariness.
Suspect Culture aim to push the envelope of conventional theatrical form whilst retaining an overall accessibility. Here, Greig, Powell and director Graham Eatough play games with space – as the "same" bar table manifests simultaneously on opposite sides of the stage – time – as in the arrangement of scenes – and even intelligibility, with the strings welling up to drown out what might normally be characters' "big" speeches. The piece, though, remains clear and comprehensible. At the moment, characters consist of aggregations of idiosyncrasies rather than rounded, unified portraits, which leaves the bulk of the final scene rather adrift; this flaw, however, may well evaporate during the show's coming tour. However, its central point – that even our most cherished memories are meaningful only because we bestow meaning upon them – is cleverly and tellingly made.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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