from Edinburgh

Dundee Rep Ensemble/ The Traverse
The Traverse, 6th - 28th August

Last night I went to see Lynda Radley’s Futureproof at the Traverse, the 1st of 12 shows shortlisted for the new Scottish Arts Club Flying Artichoke prize for Scottish theatre, for which I am lucky enough to be a judge. Here are some of my thoughts:

Focussing on a failing travelling freak show, ‘Riley’s Odditorium’ at the turn of the twentieth century, Lynda Radley’s Futureproof is enthralling if not superbly executed; pulling us in with it’s colourful and fascinating characters, whilst forcing us to question our own inhibitions and desires. Essentially this is a show, like many, about the nature of humans.

What makes this production good is its well researched and interesting stance regarding the people who performed in such shows, which, perhaps surprisingly to a group of theatregoers: middle class liberals and dreaming artists (yes, we all oppose zoos and hate x-factor, I’m sure), seems to be one of acceptance and content. In taking their ‘strangeness’ and exhibiting it, the acts – a suitably fascinating ramshackle bunch including a bearded lady (powerful Irene MacDougall), a hermaphrodite and a pair of conjoined twins - seem to feel more accepted in the circus than in the ‘real world’, where one can imagine they would have been sidelined and often abused.

They are faced with a changing public who take far more joy in seeing them ‘fixed’, and have begun to feel guilty about their ‘desire to peep’, something that certain members of the troupe find easier to accept than others. Tiny, the fat man can lose his flab, but it isn’t so easy for the twins, and tensions rise in the group as Riley, played by the very fine John Buick, grasps at straws for an answer

Sadly, Lynda Radley’s text is far too bitty to deliver this potentially brilliant story to us with any great excitement or magic, relying largely on various overly staged conversations between two or three of the cast members, while others sit unlit or off stage giving the whole production a rather dreary, episodic feel.

One can easily appreciate the appeal of all the action happening in the troupe’s camp, with us never encountering the public arena. However, the fleeting moment when this is broken, with characters appearing in front of a collosal tinsel curtain, lifts the production immeasurably out of it’s steady rhythm and gives Guy Hoare’s lighting a real opportunity to shine (*ahem*). I can’t help but think there could have been more moments like this.

Although the acting was a bit muggy – Acting (darling!), with a capital ‘Ah’ – the performers worked well with Colin Richmond’s set, which despite a few technical hiccups, was delightful and full of fairground charm with strings of coloured bulbs and rickety carts galore.

Dominic Hill’s final production at the Traverse before he moves to the Citizens Theatre in October has some moments of real strength and human fragility, but alas somehow manages to miss the mark. For me, anyway.

Irene MacDougall as the Countess Marketa