Review: After the Cuts – Summerhall, Edinburgh


First published in The Times, Wednesday August 15 2018

Three Stars

Most speculative writing takes its inspiration from the way we live now. The action of Gary McNair’s two-hander begins in 2042, but there is nothing high-tech about the playwright’s vision of the future. His protagonists, Agnes (Pauline Knowles) and Jim (George Docherty), live in a tiny house surrounded by threadbare furniture. The greatest luxury the couple can afford is a rare Blue Riband biscuit, ordered online and cherished like vintage malt whisky.

As Jim points out: “It’s all a bit like now, but a bit more . . . well, shitey.” The biggest reverse of all is the complete privatisation of the NHS, which proves devastating for the couple when Agnes receives a diagnosis of kidney cancer. As the operation she needs to save her life is beyond their means, Jim, a mechanic, wonders if he can turn his fine motor skills to the human body.

thumbnail_After The Cuts by Gary McNair. Actors George Docherty (Jim) and Pauline Knowles (Agnes) Photo credit Eoin Carey

Pic: Eoin Carey

The story’s trajectory is disaster-bound, of that we are never in doubt, but McNair leavens the bleak subject matter with some tender scenes between the embattled couple and a dark humour that wouldn’t look out of place among the dystopian anthology tales of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror series.

thumbnail_After The Cuts by Gary McNair. Actors Pauline Knowles (Agnes) and George Docherty (Jim). Photo credit Eoin Carey

Pic: Eoin Carey

Indeed, the brilliant set-up is cheapened slightly by a chamber-of-horrors element to the scenes in which Jim makes his first attempts at surgery, operating on animals and disinterring corpses. The speed with which Docherty’s character, practising in his garage, acquires the skills of a surgeon, may be hard to swallow, but McNair, Beth Morton, the show’s director, and the two performers, keep us onside by focusing on the human toll rather than straining to make the improbable seem possible. A righteous political anger informs McNair’s script without ever being heavy-handed or hectoring.


Box office: 0131 560 1581, to August 26

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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: