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Edinburgh Fringe 2023

For Better, For Worse

Penpal Productions (Scotland)

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Theatre

Venue: C aquila


Low Down

Diane lost her husband 6 months ago. He was a dominant figure in his household, and Diane is about to try and wash those memories out with a night out for her birthday. Then, her son and daughter arrive unannounced. Not wanting her to be alone on her birthday, brother and sister are unaware that Diane is already in the process of making sure she is far from lonely. But now, those plans are scuppered as son and daughter are now here. Daughter has come to stay, away from her partner whilst son is permanently still at home. As dad had been a big independence supporter, the referendum takes up the stage as we go through the countdown towards it and the day after it whilst tensions in the house reach fever pitch and truths and opinions are exposed.


Set in a village in Scotland, this is very familiar territory to anyone who saw the effects and the issues around the referendum vote from 9 years ago. But the story has little to show us about the referendum as it is a family affair. The dominant force of an unseen personality – dad – is what we are here to dissect.

And whilst the script does manage to show up the divisions onstage, the characters presented have much more to offer by way of drama. Perhaps driven by years of silence, Diane has a dry acerbic wit at times, though her warring children make it difficult to be heard at all. Whilst their characterisations are clear and believable, some of the shouting and anger could have been toned down as they come across less as rounded characters than just big personalities refusing to back down. It was a feature of that time that many people went into bolt holes and waited for the result because there seemed to be too much arguing and less explanation – here it is mimicked well, but for the theatre, some subtlety would have helped.

Performances were good, though on a few occasions there were simple stumbles. Given the pace at which much of this was set that becomes either understandable or a symptom of that pace. There could have been some more shade in terms of the direction. We could also have been better served with dialogue indicating the passage of time rather than Diane announcing it at scene changes.

Technically the set was functional and spoke of a time and place well enough. Costume was good and Natalie seemed to have brought a more than sufficient wardrobe when she came visiting! It was nice to see some variety and effort in making that realistic.

Overall, this used the referendum more as a backdrop and a sales point than an element of the exploration of the time. Where I thought it worked well, was the creation of division but once created I would have dropped it. This was about the man who was in the chair and how Mark took on his views and admired him whilst Natalie was thrown out by him. The effect on his wife, Diane, was clear and I would have loved much more about the misogyny and the relationships between everyone rather than the hiding of phones and remote controls to avoid the result. It did give the piece a slick and very good ending, however, but I think the drama was elsewhere.