Theatre Review: The Unconquered, 12 – 14 March, Traverse Theatre

24 Mar

As discussions over Scottish independence remain topical, with plans for a referendum announced at the SNP spring conference, scrutiny increases over the mechanisms of Scottish society and how we could possibly survive adrift from the British Empire.

It’s no surprise then to see Stellar Quine’s CATS award-winning production of The Unconquered, Torben Betts’ surreal satire of independence and English unrest that bears relevance to Scotland’s own national debate.

Set in the home of a quintessentially English, middle-class family, we meet a teenage schoolgirl (Nicola Harrison), who has become so absorbed in her reading, ranting and a venomous vexation towards her parents and the system, that she has failed to notice a socialist uprising.

While her Mother (Alexandra Mathie) quietly frets over the impending disintegration of their domestic lifestyle and her husband’s (Neil McKinven) next pay cheque, the Girl is torn between revolution and family; unaware of the threat posed by the arrival of an emotionally volatile mercenary Soldier (Neal Barry) into their home.

As if springing to life from designer Keith McIntyre’s sketchpad, both characters and set become a flurry of grotesque caricatures, that at times feel strangely akin to a Tim Burton-esque dark surreality.

An ashen faced cast carry Betts’ powerfully poetic yet often repetitive turns of phrase, with highlights from the defiant Harrison who tears apart, with clawed hand and clenched jaw, any lingering memory of her showing as the meek and mild Laura in the Lyceum’s The Glass Menagerie.

Meanwhile Neal Barry’s joker like grin following the rape and birth of his child to the Girl is executed with a skin crawling flair that is only exceeded by the parents casting aside of their daughter’s welfare in favour of a case of sausages.

What this piece does best however, is focus our attention on the middle-class’ fear over the loss of the domestic and material and as we ask ‘can Scotland survive financially?’ is our attention too wholly pinned on what there is to loose rather than what there is to gain? A definite must see.

Review by Mhairi MacLeod

The Unconquered is touring Scotland until 18 April 2008- see website for details.

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