The Authorised Kate Bane
Comic exploration of family life by acclaimed playwright Ella Hickson
'Write what you know' is the standard advice given to aspiring dramatists. But how do you edit your own life to make it fit for dramatic purpose? Up-and-coming playwright Ella Hickson's new piece for Grid Iron tackles this dilemma head-on, focusing on the attempts made by a young writer to complete a play that draws on her unconventional family situation while giving voice to her own insecurities about married life and monogamy.
The concept may be high but the situation feels familiar: one of those awkward gatherings beloved of text-based drama from Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf to Mike Leigh's Abigail's Party. As Kate the character (Jenny Hulse) endures the ordeal of introducing her boyfriend, Albin (Nicky Elliott), to her estranged parents, Ike (Sean Scanlon) and Nessa (Anne Kidd), at the former's snow-bound rural home, Kate the writer intermittently pauses the action, backtracks and ramps up the dialogue, making it fit the scheme she's working out on her laptop.
Ben Harrison's production finds a nice balance between the realism of Hickson's dialogue and the knowing artifice of the conceit, which is nicely underscored by Becky Minto's set, a shelved wall of neat cardboard boxes containing props, changes of clothing and family snapshots. The cast, too, does a fine job of mining the tension beneath the dialogue, most poignantly in the scene in which Kidd's bohemian mother warns Kate about the loss of identity brought about by marriage.
And yet, overall, there's something a little so-what about this piece, partly due to the alienating effect of the play-wthin-a-play structure, but also because you're left feeling that - despite Hulse's passionate performance - there's not actually all that much at stake here. Perhaps if Hickson had delved deeper the wider political implications of marriage and child-bearing, both for Kate's and her mother's generation, it might have added more urgency to what at present is an amusing piece, well-crafted but only intermittently engaging and somewhat limited in scope.
- Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, until Sat 26 Oct; Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Tue 30-Sat 3 Nov.