Edinburgh Fringe 2023
Six seemingly unconnected lives are brought together during lockdown
The year 2020 started with high hopes for many people ; maybe there was something about it being a fresh decade. But COVID-19 was coming down the road, initiating in Wuhan, China, but in this era of globalisation nothing is ever truly local. It soon became a global pandemic. Notwithstanding notable exceptions, countries chose to shut down. Most people were compelled to remain indoors, isolated from loved ones, in some cases tragically not being able to say goodbye.
It is within this context that Alison Skilbeck introduces us to six people whose lives are set near to a common. We meet Margot, whose life seems to have hit a repetitive groove. Her grown-up children have returned to the nest, but there has been a reversion within the mother- offspring dynamic, to her frustration. She appears to be showing signs of an alcohol dependency. Then there is Tilly, an elderly woman who is clearly in the throes of dementia, casting her in the role perhaps of the unreliable narrator. We can safely assume that she is not, in fact, appearing in a television series currently. She is well-travelled, lived in Greece, but is now in a hospice. A council worker, Sandra Foster, with thespian aspirations is next up. She is a children’s entertainer calling herself Fairy Draggle. We meet Maureen, who has Foreign Accent Syndrome, a rare and presumably deeply frustrating condition, whereby a native speaker articulates with a foreign accent. Apparently George Michael had this temporarily. Maureen is an orderly in a hospice and is one of life’s gentle souls. Skilbeck moves away from women now, as we encounter a child, Matty. His parents have separated and he is the subject of a familial pass-the-parcel. His father is now in a relationship with his teacher ; Christmas must be interesting. He observes sharply but does not fully comprehend, another unreliable narrator. Finally it is the elderly, anxious, Dougie, whose world revolves around Patty. He takes photographs of a tree on the common.
These seemingly disparate characters are linked in ways that they do not realise. And of course, this gives rise to the perceptive title of the show, Uncommon Ground. Skilbeck is the consummate story-teller, gentle, absorbing, charming. She relays the daisy-chain of characters, subtly and nuanced, and invites the audience to fill in the gaps. A mention too, for Gareth Armstrong’s insightful direction, delivered with a light touch.
Skilbeck, in her green shirt, finally presents the mystery seventh character, bringing the cast together in a way they could not have imagined. The seventh character garrulously is rattling off connections, but the underlying message is as old as the hills : in the words of John Donne, no man is an island. At a moment in history when we were not permitted to interact socially, the need for human connectivity was stronger than ever. A lovely hour well spent.