Theatre review: Stand By

Four police officers in a van create a mood of fear and disillusion that says much about the future of the service. Picture: Eoin Carey
Four police officers in a van create a mood of fear and disillusion that says much about the future of the service. Picture: Eoin Carey
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Edinburgh Festival Fringe: As we enter the big performance space in the basement of the East Claremont Street army hall, each audience member is handed a single-earpiece headphone, which soon begins to crackle with police messages.

Army @ The Fringe, East Claremont Street (Venue 210)

****

It’s a simple device; but like every other aspect of this brilliantly crafted production from Utter and the Byre Theatre, it helps us to enter straight into the experience of the four Dundee police officers at the heart of Adam McNamara’s new play, as they sit in a closed van outside the scene of firearms incident, waiting for their earpieces to deliver instructions from headquarters.

In one sense, McNamara’s play is just an exceptionally tight and well-written television cop-show, remade for theatre.

There’s the unhappily 
married leader of the firearms team, the female officer who loves him, the cynical joker, the rookie just arrived from the very different world of the Met.

Yet in Joe Douglas’s superb production, the backbeat of real tedium and sudden terror is exceptionally powerful, as actors Andy Clark, Jamie Marie Leary, Laurie Scott and McNamara himself conjure up a story that raises serious questions about the future of policing in Scotland, and the risks for both police and public that become inevitable with constant downward pressure on resources.

The four live performances are backed by some excellent work from Ron Donachie and Kirstin McLean as the two radio voices issuing instructions, as well as by superb sound, design and lighting from Kevin Murray, Natasha Jenkins and Kate Bonney.

And by the end of what becomes a terrible and terrifying day, all four officers are on the verge of resignation; a decision McNamara has already made, but which – he suggests – is constantly on the minds of almost all police officers in 2017, as they weigh the personal cost of doing the job, and the sheer difficulty of doing it well, against the increasingly tarnished appeal of the uniform, and the pay cheque at the end of the month.

Until 26 August. Today 6:35pm.