The Monstrous Heart (2 stars)

The Monstrous Heart

credit: Mihaela Bodlovic

Human monstrosity that is all teeth, no brains

In a remote log cabin in the Canadian wilderness, a woman sits with a dead grizzly bear sprawled on her kitchen table when a violent knock sounds on her door. Her daughter Beth, freshly released from prison, has tracked her down from Scotland and is here to settle a brutal, decades-old score.

Charlene Boyd's Beth is startlingly vicious in her unpredictability, oscillating between brutal verbal abuse and disturbing, uncontrolled laughter designed to bring her mother closer and closer to the edge. The tension between this maniacal hatred and her mother Mags' passive desperation is compelling, particularly when revelations about Mags' past complicate their supposed dichotomy. Yet the unrelenting violence creates a claustrophobic atmosphere that inhibits any sense of nuance: questions of nature versus nurture are self-consciously inserted amongst the shouting, while repeated allusions to Frankenstein provide a too-obvious framework for interpretation.

As the writing makes unerringly clear, The Monstrous Heart is ultimately a visceral retelling of Shelley's iconic tale through a female narrative. Yet while its depiction of women is certainly complex, it lingers too much on the idea – perhaps first articulated in Euripides' Medea – that the most monstrous thing a woman can do is fail at maternity. Mags and Beth are grotesque not because they listen to their animal nature, but because they go against it: a conclusion that feels out of place, even in the remotest of log cabins.

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, until Sat 2 Nov.

The Monstrous Heart

The Monstrous Heart is a thrilling and surreal play raising eternal questions about (human) nature. Directed by Gareth Nicholls.

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