Review: New Works I

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New Works is back for its third year, this time constructing a distinct through-line on identity in radically different societies.

Image of Review: New Works I

Showing @ Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh until Sat 17 Sep

The Bends
liberty equality fraternity

Split into two parts, with as many shows featuring on each night, New Works opens for its third year. The project is a collaboration between MA students on the Classical and Contemporary Text course at the Royal Conservatoire (formerly RSAMD) and Playwrights’ Studio Scotland. Commissioned dramatists Iain F. Macleod, Pamela Carter, Ann Marie Di Mambro and Davey Anderson offer their work up to adaptation and direction, with this year’s scripts constructing a distinct through-line on the perceptions of personal and cultural identity in radically different societies.

Opening the showcase is Macleod’s The Bends, a text which explores a young man’s choice to cryogenically freeze his head after death (a procedure which costs a cool forty grand). After a fatal diving accident, Adam (David Hooley) finds himself reconstructed in a virtual world, guided by a seductive digitised woman called Diana (Charlie Hanson). Facing the choice of either rebirth with no memories or death, the play explores his past life and the consequences of delving into such personal territory. Director Emily Reutlinger probes the westernised religious side to reincarnation with an immersive white set, smartly alluding to the innocent nature of Christian virginity and holiness. Juxtaposed against Adam’s atheism, the disturbing reality of his memories explore how vividly our past affects our future, and it is only through this retrospective analysis that we appreciate our true mistakes and flaws.

Though the play is well-stated, the repetition which lies in the constant interruption of Adam’s memories by Diana becomes a little tiresome; an intrusion which disturbs the absorbing storyline. And since its idea is a reproduction of concepts seen in films such as Vanilla Sky and Eternal Sunshine, some of the conversations feel a little clichéd. Perhaps some tinkering with narrative and theory would leave this play open to a more interesting conclusion and statement on the nature of our social lifestyles.

Pamela Carter’s liberty equality fraternity is the second play of the first night: a two-part investigation of sexual culture and socialism, with the third on ‘doing right by your man’ still to be completed. A swingers club is the setting for part one as nervous couple John and Janet (Joseph Hawkins and Jessica Bathurst) show up in an attempt to revitalise their sex lives after getting a bit old and a bit bored. As a newspaper report comes in about the seedy nature of the club itself (and of society for overlooking such behaviour) the characters rage against the underhand article which seems set out to ruin them. Deborah Hannan’s direction is exactly how it should be: bold yet anonymous. The set is bathed in red; from the table tops to the clothes, a sexy interpretation of a political text expertly pits intellectualism and eroticism against each other. The raunchy innuendos and crude puns are housed perfectly in the flirty nature of the characters, with a bizarre normality to it all which flows with ease and style.

While the second part, a café meeting between two socialist party members (Hawkins and David Pica), one of whom has been ‘caught’ attending the same swingers club, includes the same fluid style, its lengthiness lets the whole thing down a bit. The script repeats this whole American cop-show hyperbole of ‘what will you do if you’re caught goddamnit’, but the intricate discussion that the pair have on how the leaked story to the News of the Day (sound familiar?) might threaten leftwing politics and propagate capitalism is truly captivating. Reactionary and analytical, Carter’s text, once finished, will create a crucially rounded comment on systemic societal hypocrisy.