First published in The Times, Tuesday October 24 2016
This eerie slice of contemporary noir is not what we’ve come to expect from the playwright Rob Drummond. His notable earlier works include Bullet Catch, in which Drummond recreated the classic magic trick with the help of audience participants. In Fidelity, which debuted at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, explored questions of love and monogamy through a Blind Date-style game show format involving single audience members.
His new play is comparatively linear, drawing on the tropes of the thriller to grapple with issues of personal motivation, the nature of altruism and self-sacrifice. In the opening sequence a young man, Isaac (Andrew Rothney), returns to his family farmstead following a stretch in prison. So far, so familiar a proposition, you might think, but there is a particular urgency to this homecoming. Autumn (Sarah Miele), the daughter Isaac has never met, is in the advanced stages of kidney disease. As the young girl has already endured two failed transplants, her father is now her only chance of survival.
Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic
Luring Isaac back into the fold represents one final desperate throw of the dice for Autumn’s adoring grandmother, Sophia (Blythe Duff), and aunt, Violet (Frances Thorburn). Their long effort to secure a future for the child has become all-consuming. Yet, as the plot unfolds over the course of Isaac’s visit, Drummond attempts to show how such single-minded focus on a loved one’s welfare can have devastating consequences for the lives of others.
For much of its 90-minute running time, the playwright successfully dramatises this age-old ethical conundrum, while the references in the script to ancient beliefs and rituals combine with the economy and precision of the direction, by Orla O’Loughlin, and Simon Wilkinson’s warm, shadowy lighting to effect a sense of the uncanny that pervades the entire production.
Unfortunately, this co-production between the Tron and the Traverse rather loses its nerve once this dysfunctional family’s dilemma reaches a critical point, with the playwright falling back on a melodramatic finale that entirely fails to convince and rather undermines the hitherto steady, suspenseful pacing and restrained characterisation, not to mention Drummond’s admirably controlled storytelling. Something altogether gentler and subtler at the death would have better maintained the otherwise painstakingly woven spell.