Mouthpiece at Traverse Theatre (4 stars)

Mouthpiece

credit: Stewart Armstrong

Provocative confrontation of Edinburgh's class divide and the exploitative politics of artmaking

Kieran Hurley's latest two-hander is a searing indictment of the division between two co-existing Edinburghs: the genteel, outward-facing capital of culture and the neglected communities on its peripheries. In Mouthpiece, these two worlds are steered into a collision course when Declan, a teen from a poor, abusive home, saves the life of Libby, a playwright driven to end her life on Salisbury Crags.

Hurley does an excellent job of depicting how these two cities seemingly operate on completely different planes of existence – how even free public spaces like galleries implicitly exclude people like Declan, let alone paying theatres such as the Traverse. Initially, Declan and Libby's genuine connection seems to offer a positive bridge between the two, as she introduces him to the joys of music and artisanal produce. Her motives, however, are not completely altruistic, as she begins increasingly to see herself as a conduit for Declan's 'story' of hardship, which only she and her powers can make 'meaningful'.

Some of Mouthpiece's most formidable moments are in its depiction of how the upper-middle class operate as the sole gatekeepers and interpreters of art, culture – even of the lives of others. The framing through Libby's narration is a highly effective display of how the act of storytelling can easily become an act of violence. Much less effective are the play's other moments of overt self-consciousness, particularly the exaggeratedly meta-theatrical ending. These knowing winks to the audience feel like a self-congratulatory demonstration of its own cleverness, rather than a political point. Nevertheless, Mouthpiece's all-too human subjects stage a defiant, complicated portrait of class and privilege on our own doorstep.

Mouthpiece, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, until Sun Dec 22.

Mouthpiece

A young man saves a woman's life on the Salisbury Crags, sparking a friendship complicated by class, culture and privilege. Written by Kieran Hurley and directed by Orla O'Loughlin.

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