Theatre Review: What We Know, 19 February, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

22 Feb

Grant Gillies reviews the Traverse theatre’s latest production.

4 out of 5 stars

The Traverse continue to push at the boundaries of cutting edge theatre with their latest fulfilling offering, What We Know, written and directed by Pamela Carter.

The play is split into three distinct parts: Life before death; the ensuing chaos that surrounds the removal of a loved one; and the return to integration as normality falls as fragile as snow.

On entering the theatre, the picture portrayed is one of blissful interaction, smells and dialogue blending together in a natural flow.  Normality and mundane tasks such as preparing a meal accentuate the love between the two characters of Lucy (Kate Dickie) and Jo (Paul Thomas Hickey).

The writing perfectly captured the strength of love between the two, right up until Jo was quickly removed from the scene, when everything changed. One minute he was there and the next he was gone. Normal to abnormal. Life to death.

In the midst of this grey storm of confusion, as Lucy struggles to come to terms with Jo simply disappearing from her life, the arrival of a young stranger, played by Lorn McDonald, was unexpected and slightly absurd. It worked, just.

The maelstrom created by the sudden death threw everything into confusion, however the young actor barely held onto the difficult role that was pivotal in linking life to the afterlife.

McDonald was almost brilliant, with a strong physical presence and captivating gestures, but he lacked the courage of his conviction and, in comparison to Lucy, looked out-of-place. His strange 1970s outfit, coupled with modern day song references, merely added to the oddness of this scene.

And so Lucy’s grief spiralled and the audience were sucked into the journey of recovery. The meal was a metaphor for the all the ingredients and flavours that bonded their lives.

Fortunately the third, and strongest part of the play, involved an ensemble of three key figures in her life coming to dinner, the dinner Lucy and Jo had been preparing.

As she re-entered the world, each of the guests aided the process. All of these characters were strong and exceptionally well portrayed by accomplished performers, most notably  Anne Lacey’s acerbic neighbour, Charlie.

One issue was with the chemistry between Lucy and Jo. As played by Paul Thomas Hickey, Jo was simply too camp to be convincing, something which affected the play’s believability as its foundations lay in the strength of their love.

Fortunately Dickie more than made up for this problem, the intensity and depth with which she deconstructed the relationship quite masterful.

At one point Charlie makes states that “cooking is the illusion of control”, highlighting the journey Lucy is on as she attempts to regain control in her life through reliving the meal she and Jo had made together before he was taken from her.

It was a perfectly written play, the strength of the performances pulling the observer into a world that swirled with grief.

With the exception of Hickey and  McDonald, each character combined to produce a perfect repast. This is what theatre should be, filling the audience member with a colourful blend of delicate flavours, both sweet and sour.

Review by Grant Gillies

What We Know runs at the Travese Theatre until Saturday 27 February, visit the website for details.

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