Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh – until 24 October
Powerful and shocking, Linda Duncan McLaughlin’s Descent at the Traverse’s lunchtime theatre season from A Play, A Pie and A Pint, grabs you with an intense passion that doesn’t ever hold back.
The knowledge that this is also produced in association with Luminate, Scotland’s creative ageing festival, and concerns the issue of dementia in no way spoils either the drama of the play, or indicates some kind of worthy piece of soft-soaped flannel.
In a trio of delicately observed performances, Barrie Hunter is superb as architect, Rob, whose whole life was illuminated when, as a child, he discovered that you could draw a plan of a house, exposing its inner workings. Suddenly he could see order in the world and find a structure.
If Hunter has a brutality to his performance, an edge of the unknown in his daily routine, Wendy Seager creates an utterly benign being in Cathy, Rob’s wife. Here, as she carries on with her own work, adjusting her world but refusing to acknowledge that she has done so, is a woman of compassion who – with just the slightest of gestures – is seen teetering on the edge.
Between them, almost an interloper into the theatre of their relationship, is their daughter, Nicola. Again, with a hinted tone of worry to her voice or the merest look as she comes onto the intimate stage of Traverse Two, Fiona MacNeil creates both a fully rounded character and pinpoints the pressure under which Nicola is operating.
Director Allie Butler brings a satisfyingly rounded production to the stage. In the confines of the hour available, it nips back and forward in time, finding the details which will make the whole make sense and giving life to the characters. Here, she helps her actors find real people, who naturally evolve and shape over the course of the play.
ominous fourth presence
Pauline Morgan’s sound design adds a thoroughly ominous fourth presence to the whole piece. Noises which both throb into the consciousness and speak of those external presences necessary to pull the story of Nicola’s parents forward.
Ultimately, as the rituals of forgetting evolve: the lost pen, the inability to tell the time and the sheltering behind blame, this portrays a magnificently complex truth. A truth of lives intertwined so that the descent of the title is neither Rob nor Cathy’s but something mutual, shared and facilitated between them.
The power and the shock lies in the understanding of Nicola’s position. And the truth is a realisation of the domestic horror that, no matter how well you have mapped out your future, created a plan for it and detailed its intimate structures, you are likely to end up not listening to the promises you made to your younger self.
Running time 55 mins (no interval)
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge Street, EH1 2ED
Tuesday 20 – Saturday 24 October 2015
Daily: 1.00 pm; also Friday at 7.00 pm
Details and tickets from: http://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event-detail/684/ppp-descent.aspx