Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Athol and Morna are siblings who fell out years ago, and over a series of monologues the history of this situation is revealed, as well as a portrait of their lives since the estrangement.
This is not a tale of fantasy or of heroes, in fact it is a remarkably ordinary story about two remarkably ordinary people. Siblings fall out all the time, thousands of people live in bungalows and there are millions of cleaners in this world. However, in David Harrower’s honestly written and excellently performed play we are made to care about this particular brother and sister, this bungalow dweller and cleaning lady, and become interested in their fairly mundane lives.
Athol is a portly man in middle age, with a soft manner and a fondness for his rescue dog Clay. His genial exterior is betrayed by mentions in the text which indicate that he served time in the past, but we are not told why, and any shades of the former criminal have largely gone and a honest hardworking person is the image that is portrayed. Morna, his sister is a feisty, talkative woman with a hard Edinburgh edge – she is quick to fight and quick to speak her mind, peppered with obscenities. She has a chip on her shoulder the size of a canyon, there due to her family’s abandonment and the trials of having to bring up her son alone.
The staging is simple, some ripped floor tiles, and a somewhat superfluous flat at the back, with some faded walloper and a dado rail. There is little need for more, as the entirety of the play consists of monologues spoken to the audience by a largely stationary Athol and Morna. No attempt is made at any dramatisation, which is to the play’s credit, as the text is powerful enough that the words speak for themselves, and any extra staging would have ben unnecessary.
The quality of acting is superb, with carefully crafted and expertly realised characters, who are as natural and believable as it is possible to be in the most unnatural form of monologuing. Played by Kathryn Howden and Lewis Howden, incredibly the actors are brother and sister in real life, which although I didn’t know it whilst watching the show, it undoubtedly added a lot of truth to their performances, and although they didn’t directly relate to each other at any point in the play, it certainly helped to create the onstage dynamic between the actors.
Mingled with the story about the sibling’s estrangement is a gentle comment on and exploration of terrorism in the UK. This is illustrated by the presence in Athol’s village of the empty house where the Glasgow airport bombers lived and made explosives, as well as the decidedly anti-Islamic reaction to the terror attacks by Morna’s young son Joshua. There are nice reflections on the underlying tensions immigration and an increasing Asian presence is causing within small Scottish communities, and David Harrower mercifully attempts no resolution of this comment, he just paints the picture.
This was an enjoyable and well crafted piece of theatre, which was full of truth and honesty, fleshed out by some very real characters who were helped by the talent of the actors’ craft.