First published in The Times, Tuesday October 23 2018
It feels misleading to refer to this new production of Gagarin Way as a “revival” — as though the director Cora Bissett and her cast had somehow breathed life back into a corpse. Gregory Burke’s black comedy, which was plucked out of the slush pile at the Traverse Theatre and went on to stun audiences at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, has thrived on stages around the world pretty much nonstop since its premiere in 2001.
While a couple of exchanges in the script date the play (including withering mention of the crater that was the Scottish parliament building for much of the early Noughties), in Bissett’s hands Burke’s depiction of a bungled heist that sparks a four-pronged political debate is as fresh as ever.
Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
The biggest compliment that can be paid to her taut production for the Dundee Rep Ensemble is that the quartet of actors give performances of such detail, wit and force that their characters come across as real people rather than representatives of a particular point of view. Ewan Donald is horribly believable as the sociopathic Eddie, who appears to go along with his sidekick Gary’s woolly plan to smash the system by kidnapping a visiting troubleshooter at a Fife computer factory, only to reveal his murderous intent.
Donald not only has a rare facility for the complicated rhythms of Burke’s dialogue, he also creates a portrait of jittery psychosis in which all the tics and mannerisms belong to the character rather than the actor. His opening exchange with Tom (Ross Baxter), the politics graduate turned security guard who facilitates what he believes to be a robbery, is a fascinating depiction of mushy liberalism repeatedly running aground against spiky certitude.
Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
Michael Moreland, who played Tom in the original production, is every inch the two-bit revolutionary in greatcoat and workers’ boots as Gary, steeped in the one-time radicalism of the Fife collieries and with naive notions of sticking it to the man. That the man turns out to be Frank (Barrie Hunter), an unprepossessing middle manager who is himself scunnered with hyper-capitalism, is but one of the plot’s many cruel ironies.
Bissett and her cast skilfully navigate the play’s mix of broad humour and darker, gorier elements (at one point the stage literally drips blood). The simplicity of the set and elegant lighting design (created by, respectively, Emily James and Katharine Williams) contrast nicely with the vivid writing and colourful performances, and if Burke’s ending has always seemed on the abrupt side, the play’s lack of catharsis is perfectly in tune with the essential bleakness of the playwright’s vision.