‘Savagery, sympathy, pathos and power’ – a distillation, perhaps, of the forces at work in all human relationships. But also Kenny Miller’s summary of the content of Autobahn, the Neil LaBute-penned cycle of plays of which he is currently sharing the direction. Both he and Mary McLuskey direct three one-act episodes in this UK premiere at the Tron Theatre.
For all six pieces, the immediate setting is the front seat of a car, the wider context contemporary Middle America. Locked safely within their four-wheeled cells, the cast of parents, lovers, teenagers, friends and families are forced to fill the miles of tarmac with conversation. The fascination of the car for LaBute was in its forced confinement: ‘Sitting in an automobile was where I first remember understanding how drama works … I quickly realised how deep the chasm or intense the claustrophobia could be inside your average family car.’
Like the minimal set, which Miller also designed, the action itself is ‘pared down to practically nothing’, bringing into sharp focus the acute discomfort of those awkward silences between nearests and dearests who are suddenly confronted with the gulf between them. Using the dynamic of the cycle to repeatedly push home one point, the plays all depict people who find themselves suddenly being taken by surprise by a relationship, the lack of distracting action or sets forcing the audience into an intense concentration on the dialogue and the faces of the actors which Miller describes as ‘almost televisual’.
If that all sounds rather heavy, Miller is quick to point out that, while Autobahn includes some harrowing episodes, it’s also full of ‘brilliantly observed’ comic moments, those moments when, as he puts it ‘things just come rattling out like a steam train’, and the seriously meant becomes impossible not to laugh at.
Miller is full of praise for LaBute’s writing, adding that, for the first production from Theatre Jezebel, ‘We were adamant that we wanted to do a Neil LaBute.’ Jezebel was formed earlier this year by Miller and McLuskey, who have a long history of working together, in order to showcase ‘really extraordinary pieces by brilliant contemporary writers that have never been seen in Scotland before’. Their aim for the future? ‘Keep on doing firsts.’
Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Tue 10–Sat 14 Nov