August 2007 Scotland on Sunday

Night Time

By Selma Dimitrijevic. Traverse Theatre review ****

YOU FEAR it's going to be one of those modishly anaemic plays in which no one says more than a few words at a time and the conversation never gets to the point. Certainly Selma Dimitrijevic's mainstage debut, Night Time, is a delicate spider-web of a play, so fragile it could snap apart at any moment. For a while, it seems it's only the careful choreography of Lorne Campbell's direction and the humane performance of Kananu Kirimi that are holding the gossamer threads together. The enigmatic conversation, the bare white set, the self-conscious shadows of Jon Clark's odd lighting design in the Traverse's temporary tent inside the University of Edinburgh Drill Hall, all conspire to push the play beyond mere intrigue and into the inconsequential.

But behind the chit-chat of Dimitrijevic's cautiously paced dialogue lurks a monster of darkness and ferocity. Night Time is a much bolder play than at first it seems. Kirimi plays Chris, a young woman who has been cast into the night for fear of an abusive husband. This information we piece together gradually as she seeks solace first in the flat of John Kazek's Frank, a neighbour whose window looks onto hers, then with David Ireland's Thomas, a chance acquaintance with no short-term memory. By the time she returns to Benny Young's gaunt, domineering husband, with his cruel way with a blade, we've come to feel first-hand the psychological damage he has inflicted on her.

For all that she is good natured and easy going, Chris is incapable of trusting anyone. And perhaps she has reason: Frank might well be a peeping Tom, he has questionable motives for offering her shelter and undoubtedly has skeletons in his closet; Thomas, with his apparent lack of memory, is as slippery as he is genial. The real nightmare of her husband's control is it continues even when he is not there, warping her perceptions, undermining her sense of self.

Of course, Dimitrijevic is not the first person to write about abusive marriages – and there's something uncomfortably voyeuristic in the degree to which we are invited to revel in the husband's abuse – but in the end, her elliptical approach pays off. By avoiding specifics, she tunes in to the broader emotions at play, the oppression, the entrapment, the fear of the unfamiliar, enabling her to talk not only of the psychology of abuse, but also more generally about love and liberation. The result is a chilling, sobering and unsettling debut.

© Mark Fisher 2007/2009

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