Strangers, Babies (3 stars)

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, until Sat 17 Mar


Does our behaviour depend upon where we’re from, or where we are now? That hoary old chestnut, the nature versus nurture debate still rages on in every field of human knowledge. So it is that while it emerges quite plainly that the woman at the centre of Linda McLean’s new piece has moved from a troubled environment to a kinder psychological place, she is still treated as the girl she once was, a violent, dangerous child.

At the centre of McLean’s five short plays, which combine to make a single journey is May (Gillian Kearney), whose past crimes still haunt her at a turning point of her life. She spends a Sunday morning with her husband, visits the hospice of her ailing father, meets a man in a hotel room for masochistic sex, encounters her brother in a park and finally is intruded upon by social services. Each makes a contribution to a struggle less with the inner self than the perceptions of society.

Philip Howard’s production presents a complex moral tale, which finally resolves itself into an ambivalent sort of redemption. The central character uses a symbolic register, investing birds, curtains, bread and butter and other such everyday objects as points of reference and stability on her road to a better place. The narrative takes a few uneasy jumps in tone on the way, and there’s a general sense that some of McLean’s scenes, for all their underlying darkness, might have been exploited for their humour in the production, but it is a pleasing sort of piece at its completion. Kearney shows plenty of bravery with the complex poetic rhythms of McLean’s text, and if there are hitches here and there, she’s generally strong, and well supported, particularly by Liam Brennan’s decent, slightly frustrated husband and Sean Scanlon’s curmudgeonly father.

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