Distracted (4 stars)

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, until Sat 25 Nov


Morna Pearson’s piece forms part of the trilogy of new work presented in this new departure for the Traverse, each show performed in repertory by the same small company of actors, all directed by Lorne Campbell and designed by Lisa Sangster, all reviewed, for your convenience, on this page. On the whole, this amounts to a pleasing little program, the odd rough edge of which gives texture to the whole shebang. Each, in one way or another focuses on states of extreme subjectivity, as well as issues of transition, loneliness and alienation.

In the case of Distracted this loneliness is mainly manifested in the character of a young boy, Jamie (Gary Collins), living in a Scottish rural trailer park with a witch-like grandmother (Anne Lacey) who subjects him to all manner of psychological abuse. He’s plainly a little wanting, perhaps autistic, and he occupies himself with a succession of displacement activities, each an escapism from a cruel and incomprehensible world. As he collects insects and bits of detritus discarded around the campsite, he’s joined by another boy, George Michael (David Ireland), who retains a hope of escaping the park through a wealthy suitor for his single mum (Abigail Davies). This latter, a sexually generous young woman, utterly abandoned by the world, is capable of kindnesses which sometimes shade into forms of alarming sexual misconduct. As time passes we hear more of the circumstances that brought each character there, and the gentle humour of the piece gives way to increasing pathos and intimations of tragedy. Jamie moves into a world of fantasy, imposing, through his imagination a new reality on the situation.

The young writer displays a craft beyond her years in the piece’s sly humour and gradually unfolding narrative, all nicely realised in Campbell’s sensitive production. At the centre of it is a splendid performance by Collins, who seems to improve as he ages, but all of the acting is strong in this piece. There is, throughout, a sense of quiet and beautiful elegy, tinged with disturbing revelations about folk who have nowhere to go but into themselves when presented with an unforgiving social structure. It marks Pearson as a voice to listen out for in the future.

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