Review: The Human Ear – Roundabout at Summerhall, Edinburgh Fringe

First published in The Times, Thursday August 27 2015

Four Stars

It would be fair to say that the playwright Alexandra Wood is having a good Fringe. Her adaptation of Manfred Karge’s Man to Man is a must-see, while this new two-hander, which reunites the cast and director of last year’s hit, The Initiate, offers a compelling, refreshingly ambiguous take on loss, identity and the need for connection in an uncertain world.

The play begins, like the oldest stories, with a knock at the door. The man (Abdul Salis) standing on Lucy’s (Sian Reece-Williams) doorstep claims to be her brother Jason, returning home after ten years. While shocked at his sudden reappearance, she is clearly delighted, pressing her spare key on him with an urgency that seems rash. Their subsequent exchange reveals a whole catalogue of family disasters. But what was it that drove Jason away in the first place? And is this man really Lucy’s brother? After all, his recollection of their shared history is vague to say the least.

Paines Plough present The Human Ear as part of The Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2015 Photo Credit: Richard Davenport. 07545642134
Photo Credit: Richard Davenport

Wood’s premise in part recalls the real-life case of Frédéric Bourdin, a French confidence trickster who claimed to be missing Texan teenager Nicholas Barclay and was accepted into Barclay’s family, despite bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the boy. The production, directed by George Perrin, is economical, with only the two actors onstage throughout, yet the surprisingly dense play moves well beyond its immediate domestic setting to touch on the ways in which violence and atrocities committed in far-off places can have terrible consequences closer to home.

Wood teases out her tale in the course of five, increasingly fragmented, scenes, with the rapid switches back and forth in time conveyed via Emma Chapman’s crisp lighting design and the painstaking direction and performances. The hour-long drama requires an unusually intense level of engagement but the experience is made all the more interesting by Wood’s refusal to present her story and ideas wrapped up in a bow.

Box office: 0131 560 1581, to Aug 30. Touring to Oct 18.

Author: Allan Radcliffe

I am a writer, freelance journalist, subeditor and theatre critic, based in South Queensferry. My short fiction has been published in anthologies such as Out There, Elsewhere, The Best Gay Short Stories, ImagiNation, Markings, Gutter, New Writing Scotland and Celtic View. I have won the Scottish Book Trust's New Writer's Award and several of my stories have been adapted for broadcast on BBC Radio 4. As a journalist I write regularly for The Times, the Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday, Sunday Herald, Sunday Times, Metro, Big Issue and I was formerly assistant editor of The List magazine.

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