Northern Stage at Summerhall (Venue 26)
A place of concrete, roundabouts and housing schemes, it quickly became the town that time forgot. But there are plenty of people who harbour affection for “Skem”, among them spoken-word artist Jackie Hagan, as her first play proves.
A graduate of Graeae’s Write to Play scheme for emerging playwrights, Hagan has written a love letter to her home town, beautifully evoked by Bethany Wells’ set of multi-level concrete benches. Dent (Rachel Denning) left Skem to go to university, and is back to clear her mother’s house. She calls a number advertised for a handyman, only to discover he’s Shaun (Reuben Johnson), her ex-classmate.
The tensions are predictable enough: Dent was aspirational and left, but found she didn’t fit in in the city. Shaun stayed put, gave up on his dream of being an artist, and is now on first-name terms with the local drug dealers. Reluctantly at first, they start to reminisce, find common ground and begin to open up. He spent four months in a psychiatric unit. She needs medication for chronic pain, but faces a battle with the system to get it.
Hagan’s two-hander, directed by Amit Sharma (The Solid Life of Sugar Water) is an assured debut, slowly revealing the inner lives of its characters. The production isn’t perfect: the live subtitling feels like it’s slowing down the quickfire dialogue, and we might wish for more character and plot development. But, as Dent and Shawn find unlikely companionship in the concrete jungle of Skem the play opens up questions about leaving and staying, and admitting you need a helping hand in a world where “you’re not allowed to be broken”.