Edinburgh Fringe 2013
This production of a play by Quebecois writer Jennifer Tremblay was first shown at the Edinburgh Fringe 2012, where it won a Fringe First, Herald Angel, and went on to be awarded Best Production at the Critics Awards for Theatre in Scotland. Maureen Beattie stars as a woman struggling to retain control of her life in a rural setting, with terrible and mesmerising results.
Returning to Edinburgh after receiving lashings of praise at last year’s Fringe, The List is an exceptionally tight and fully realised piece of theatre. The burden to deliver rests heavily on the shoulders of performer Maureen Beattie, whose unnamed character speaks almost continually throughout the 50 minute running time.
The script is translated from a French-language play by Canadian writer Jennifer Tremblay. Though originally set in rural Quebec, it relocates well to what could be the Scottish Highlands, although this remains unspecified. In jumbled snippets of information, we hear how Beattie’s character has moved to the area with her husband some time previously, and in struggling to find purpose and satisfaction, forms a close friendship with another local woman, Caroline.
In an obsessive attempt to maintain control of her life, the woman keeps an ever-evolving itemised ‘to do’ list. The sections of the story, which jumps backwards and forwards frantically, are interspersed with extracts from the list, which covers just about everything she needs to keep on top of, from the banal to the fundamental.
As she recounts the development of their relationship, it becomes clear that she has been living vicariously through Caroline, who holds an unhealthy importance to the woman’s idea of herself, to the extent that while we gain a fairly clear picture of Caroline, few details are offered about the woman, her husband or her son. This preoccupation comes to have devastating consequences, and it is partly because the script stays so focused that the outcome delivers such a punch.
Given the nature of the character, who can’t afford to make mistakes, it is essential that Beattie’s mastery of the text is meticulous, and it is never anything less. Though she generally speaks quickly, the pacing of Beattie’s delivery is extremely well-judged, with moments in which she pauses to deliver a significant line carrying a great intensity. Her howl of pain at the crux of the story is thoroughly chilling, but absolutely convincing.
Though much of the credit must go to Beattie, the play is also deftly directed, making strong use of a sparse set. The soundtrack, featuring some beautiful and unnerving discordant piano, also plays a crucial part. This is a production that has all the right ingredients, never dips below the highest level, and constantly impresses.