Still by Frances Poet – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Still, by Fringe star Frances Poet whose previous work includes Adam, has a tough job at this year’s festival. It has to deliver the new writing excitement the Traverse always supplies – but pretty much on its own, in a skeleton-thin programme. It leaves a socially distanced audience feeling they have seen something special and that the Traverse is alive and kicking despite everything. Poet channels the spirit of the city in a way that feels right for a year that has left Edinburgh unrecognisable to the summer visitor.
The play covers three overlapping stories, dealing with birth, illness and death. Each shifts between states, the curtain seperating worlds being desperately thin. Gaynor (Molly Innes) is trapped at home by chronic pain, which cuts her off from her son and daughter-in-law, Dougie (Martin Donaghy) and Ciara (Mercy Ojelade), expecting a baby. Ciara is a vet, treating a dog belonging to Gilly (Naomi Stirrat), which is dying at the same time as her father. And Mick (Gerry Mulgrew) doesn’t know where he is, late for a wedding he doesn’t remember after a hard night on Rose Street.
Still slides from reality to unreality and back again, mirroring states between life and death. It makes this seem entirely natural and theatrical, with Gerry Mulgrew as a sort of Edinburgh personification making the mundane mythic. Poet writes bravely and directly about extreme grief, but also moves from hospital bed to bar room singalong as though that’s the kind of thing plays do all the time. They definitely do not, and the ease with which she combines forms makes this an exceptional piece. It is has a lot in common with previous Traverse hits such as The Patient Gloria, which have developed an alternative, perhaps specifically Celtic, approach to theatre in which the form in which a story is told constantly surprises the audience. It is powerful, new, and it conjures the spirit of the festival all by itself.