Not afraid to strip its plays back to their bare-bones, emphasising characterisation over set, substance over style, Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre is currently running two plays in its Debuts season, The Dogstone and Nasty, Brutish and Short, showing as a double bill in Traverse One.
First up is Kenny Lindsay’s The Dogstone, introducing the audience to Oban teenager Lorne (Scott Fletcher), a teenager who we first encounter tidying up what remains of his recently deceased father’s house.
In flashback we then meet dad, Danskin (Andy Gray), a larger than life character who tells tall tales to his eight-year-old son, mesmerising him with stories of Finn McCool and his adventures. As time passes Danskin increasingly turns to alcohol for solace, his son slowly realising that his dad isn’t quite worth the high esteem he holds him in.
It’s hard to choose between Fletcher and Gray in the acting stakes, the pair making a near-flawless double act who bounce off each other as if they’ve known each other for years. Fletcher is given many long passages of text and handles each impeccably, his inflections and movements always realistic.
Gray is also impressive as his character deteriorates from scene to scene, his shoulders slumping and speech slurring as the whisky and lager takes hold.
While the props are well used to convey multiple locations, it’s the two actors who mesmerise here, with a simple enough tale infused with real heart from the pair.
Nasty, Brutish and Short revolves around three unfortunate souls in a Glasgow tenement, brought together by even more unfortunate circumstances.
When Luke (James Young) takes new girlfriend Mary Jane (Ashley Smith) to his brother Jim’s (Marty Docherty) flat for some escape from the cold, events turn sour rapidly. Jim wants Luke, fresh out of therapy, to help him commit a crime and won’t take no for an answer.
With the floor of Jim’s flat represented as a huge expanse of water, seats made of piles of novels and a heater balanced upon books in the corner, this is a strange parallel universe that both removes the story from reality while hammering home the fact that these characters feel real.
Perhaps it’s the clothing they wear or the naturalistic dialogue, but there’s nothing overly fake about them, even if their back-stories are hopefully not too commonplace, though tragically we know they’re more common than we’d like to admit.
All three actors work well together, Docherty particularly vicious as Jim and Smith giving Mary Jane some tenderness as she talks about her baby.
Director Dominic Hill, responsible for both plays, gives each a unique look that complements the scripts well and it’s refreshing to see the Traverse not shying away from telling bleak stories that leave the viewer thinking, which is never a bad thing.
Review by Jonathan Melville
The Dogstone and Nasty Brutish and Short run until Saturday at the Traverse.