8 August 2004 Scotland on Sunday


By Linda McLean. Traverse Theatre review

DAVID Mamet talks about the “Death of my Kitten” speech. He says it’s that point in a play, usually three-quarters of the way through, when the writer interrupts the action with a pretty monologue. It often begins: “When I was young I had a kitten . . .”

There are times when Linda McLean’s Shimmer seems to be back-to-back “Death of my Kitten” speeches. The play, which kicked off the Traverse Theatre’s Fringe season on Tuesday, is about six characters reflecting on their past while being stuck in a bed and breakfast somewhere near Loch Lomond on a day of torrential rain (gloriously realised on Monica Frawley’s set of great Perspex windows continuously splattered with water).

The exchange is simple. Three women seek shelter as they journey to Iona in search of a miracle to cure the youngest of her terminal illness. Finding three men, they ask for little more than a cup of tea. But by letting us hear their inner thoughts, McLean turns a passing encounter into something of substance. Each stranger reminds the other of a lost loved one, their conversation haunted by ghosts of the past and, indeed, the future.

The difficulty with this is that where the audience’s impulse is to move forwards, McLean’s technique is to go backwards. We are overwhelmed with words, stories, images and memories, all beautifully and poetically put, but essentially filling the void where the play’s action would normally be.

With its repetitions and non-naturalistic commentary, it is a bold, witty and adventurous experiment – reminiscent of the structural games played by David Greig and Suspect Culture in shows such as Mainstream and Timeless. McLean shows a dazzling command of structure, the play echoing, reflecting and, indeed, shimmering against itself like a recurring dream. And for all her flights of fancy, she keeps things anchored with some hilarious one-liners.

As it builds towards its final emotional punch, therefore, Shimmer is a play you can love and be irritated by in equal measure. You applaud her daring at the same time as wishing she’d come to the point. In Lynne Parker’s keenly focused production, the end does just about justify the means, like a jigsaw puzzle waiting for one final crucial piece.

Sharp performances, as ever, from Una McLean as the Glasgow matriarch claiming to have second sight, Hilary Lyon as her stoical daughter, and Lesley Hart as her daughter in turn, level-headedly venturing towards death.

Shimmer, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, until August 27

© Mark Fisher 2004/2009

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