from London

Gerda Stevenson
Assembly Hall, until 29th August

(awarded 3rd place in the Scottish Arts Club/ Edinburgh Guide Prize for contribution to Scottish Theatre.)

The day before the end of judging for the Scottish Arts Club prize, a day and a half before my departure from Edinburgh, a day with a real-festival-hangover and a million things, this email popped into my inbox from John Ritchie, editor of the Edinburgh Guide website and chief recommendationer:

Federer versus Murray. It is a hugely important piece of theatre written, directed by Gerda Stevenson who is also acting in the piece. Recommendation.... John

I particularly liked, and was curious about the fact that it was deemed ‘hugely important’. I mean… I know some people are really into tennis, but still –

Therefore, without giving too much away, I’ll let you in on a secret: it doesn’t take long before one realises, upon watching Gerda Stevenson’s fantastic play, that this is about something far, far bigger than tennis.

As we follow Flo (Stevenson) and Jimmy (Dave Anderson) a couple in their 50s, through a minefield of delicate subjects, tiptoeing through the remains of their relationship we realise that there are far deeper rooted issues than Anderson’s redundancy from the toilet seat factory and Stevenson’s support of Murray against ‘traitor’ Jimmy’s love of the Swiss champion Federer.

Their son, a saxophonist, whose ghostly appearances throughout are actually largely unnecessary, has been killed in Afghanistan and whilst Jimmy tries to confront his grief by attempting to understand the reasons for the conflict, “you need to look, really look – they don’t tell you this on the telly”, cutting out newspaper articles in a desperate attempt to find answers, Flo – a hospital night shift worker finds it impossible to talk to her husband and has banned the news from their own sitting room battleground. Conflicts flare up from minor annoyances, and it doesn’t help that they haven’t shared a bed for three years.

Thankfully, just when you are beginning to think you can’t hack any more of this, can’t stay choked up any longer without beginning to wail, things begin to turn around. But thankfully not in a fix-all cop out way, this piece is too clever for that. Flo and Jimmy sit down for the game, and paint their faces in the national flag of their chosen nations. They drink a glass of wine, and argue again, but you can see what brought them together in the first place.*

I heard that Creative Scotland have been sending someone round the festival to select a number of shows that deserve funding for further development. This should definitely be on their list.

Gerda Stevenson’s script is punchy, honest exciting new writing conveying ‘Life in a Scotch Sitting Room’ in a way that no-one has achieved since Ivor Cutler. Her and Anderson’s performances are moving and brilliant. This is old-fashioned naturalistic acting at it’s very best and I soundly believe that the script should be published and made available not only for other theatre makers, but also for students (it would be particularly relevant on a Higher drama or HNC course, where plays like Men Should Weep are - let's face it - getting tired).

However, the same cannot be said for the aesthetic of the piece. The set is a bit ropey, the saxophone player’s appearances badly judged and everything is quite visually static. The light that was meant to look like the TV looked more like a storm annoyed me more than it should have. The flier design is rubbish.

This piece needs time and it needs money, but boy if it gets it, it will go far.

*a note: The concluding scene is beautiful. I have never before come across writing that conveys the sense of being ‘above it all’ in such an eloquent and human way. Go see it. Tell me what you think.