Edinburgh Fringe 2012
Dream Plays: Scenes From A Play I’ll Never Write (Catterline)
Sue Glover and the Traverse Theatre
Procrastination is the enemy of many a writer. Half formed ideas without a structure, strong beginnings with no guaranteed resolutions, all swirl around in a Well Of Lost Plots. It actually gets quite tough to finish anything at all. Frankly, it’s impressive that you’re getting this review.
As new Artistic Director of the Traverse, Orla O’Loughlin tells us, the brief for the writers is to write scenes from a play that they will not ever complete. Maybe the staging would be too challenging, or perhaps its felt that there’s a very niche audience.
It’s a different play each morning (along with bacon rolls and a cup of strong coffee to make the 9am start less painful for Fringe veterans). On the day of this review, it’s the turn of ‘Catterline’ by Sue Glover, the story (which will already be familiar to some, a history lesson to others) about three painters – Joan Eardley, Lil Neilson, and Angus Neil – sharing a retreat in the sixties. Argubaly, this is an example of a ‘niche audience’ play – stories about artists ‘making’ run the risk of being somewhat self involved. It begins, appearing to be centered on the painter who, at the time at least, is the most well regarded. But it quickly centres (both figuratively and literally) on the artist who isn’t very well regarded at all, least of all by himself, leading to a lack of faith in his talents and bouts of destructiveness.
It’s a memory piece as much as a Laurie Lee narrative (who is invoked a couple of times), as characters slip from narrating, to inhabiting, scenes scattered across the decades. It’s also a piece that’s as much about the circumstances of its creation – and, indeed, writing – as it is about the plot it depicts. The fragility of creation, of the (perceived) need to abandon work before it’s really been completed, the almost parlaysling fear – and assumption that once it has been completed, it won’t be much good anyway. With that in mind, this has an extra level added to it when we see the playwright’s face in the audience, sometimes carefully impassive, other times quietly proud. I imagine it’s entirely unintentional, but – particularly considering the themes within the play – it irrevocably becomes part of the narrative.
There are no bells, whistles or even lighting changes in this performance. At one point, an actor stands to deliver a certain speech, but even that isn’t strictly necessary. The words are all, and as such, are somewhat better than a good deal of apparently completely finished pieces elsewhere on the fringe. The not-quite-hour sweeps by, and any Fringe weary audiences could be potentially be back in bed before their clocks hit five past ten.
Frankly, I’m as yet unsold on the belief that this play – or indeed, any of the others that form this series of shows – are guaranteed to remain ‘unfinished’. One hopes that it’s not a contractual obligation, as these scenes are more than enough to pique a great deal of interest in a story – and for some, a playwright – that previously we may not have been willing to take a risk on. And for that alone, for taking those risks, we should always be grateful to the Traverse.