from Edinburgh

National Theatre of Scotland

The Traverse, 28th July - 28th August
(shortlisted for the Scottish Arts Club prize)

I sat down in the Traverse the other night, with plastic cup of wine in hand, to see Zinnie Harris’s new play for the National Theatre of Scotland (NTS), the Wheel. “This is meant to be really dark, depressing…” my companion whispered in my ear, “save some wine for the dark moments, I think we’ll need it!” My companion being a 70-something year old American poet, and the most hardcore fringe goer and veteran I know, I figured it must be really, very, dark. And I wasn’t disappointed.

It was, though, also very good – it has just won a fringe first, in fact. Harris’s play, which also coincides with the 5th anniversary of the NTS, claims to ask the question, ‘is it possible to travel through a world in conflict and remain unaffected?’ Examining the continuous warring, fighting, clashing of societies over the last two hundred years, the play takes us on a journey with the feisty Beatriz who “doesn’t really like kids anyway” (played by a fantastic Catherine Walsh) on a mission to return a child to it’s father, at the beginning of the French invasion of Spain in the early 19th Century.

Travelling across thousands of miles, we follow the pair as they pick up two other abandoned children along the way, meet a cowardly naturalist and really exhaust the catalogue of survival strategies. Vicky Featherstone’s direction is strong and assertive, with many visual references to different conflicts. WWI, WWII, Vietnam, Iraq, and even the cold war all crop up in there and make the work all the more powerful. It is timeless, and that is really what makes this piece important, I believe.

Written from a 21st Century vantage point, this production succeeds in asking some difficult questions, and forces us as an audience to examine the climate we repeatedly find ourselves in.

Although the demon-child narrative seems a slight unnecessary, this Mother Courage-like epic holds it own with Harris’s sharp script complemented well by Merle Hensel‘s double layered set and a strong cast; even the kids are good.

Remember though – save some wine for the dark times.