THE concept is simple, but over the past three years the effect has often been thrilling.
The idea – created by young directors Hannah Price and Emma Callander – is to invite playwrights opposed to the current politics of austerity to write short 15-minute plays around the theme, and to make them available for performance by any group, anywhere, free of charge, for one month in November of every year.
Writers from Neil LaBute to David Greig have accepted the challenge and during the Edinburgh Fringe, lucky Traverse-goers are able to see a selection of each year’s plays performed script-in-hand by top actors, in town for the Festival.
The essence of Theatre Uncut’s work, though, lies not in those special Traverse shows, but in November evenings like the one staged at Summerhall on Friday by an alliance of five shoestring Edinburgh theatre groups, including Active Inquiry from Leith, edgeeradica of Bruntsfield and Edinburgh University’s Bedlam Theatre. Over two-and-a-half hours, in a cafe-style Main Hall packed with an enthusiastic audience, they performed six of this year’s Uncut plays, on this year’s twin themes of “Scottish independence” and “Do we all get more right-wing in hard times?” and the whole evening cast a memorably sharp light on both the strengths and weaknesses of current radical politics, summed up by theatre at its light-footed best.
The strengths, for example, involve the sheer imaginative brilliance of playwrights committed to alternative ways of seeing the world, their humour, their humanity, and their determination to keep language alive and glowing.
On Friday night, for example, there was rising Scottish star Kieran Hurley’s Amanda, a play about a bad day in the life of a Scottish woman MSP trying to compromise with conventional politics.
There was Davey Anderson’s terrific True Or False, about the intrusive policing methods increasingly used by the British security state, and its matching attempts to rewrite history to justify its actions.
And there was Urban Fox’s sharp staging of Tim Price’s Capitalism Is Crisis, a clever 20-minute epic by Wales’s leading young playwright about the history of the occupy movement, and about how radicalism sometimes fades, and sometimes re-emerges in unlikely places.
If the plays are often brilliant, though, and the commitment of the performers impressive even where the acting is uneven, what the evening lacked, in the end, was precisely that quality of overarching vision and co-ordination that left-wing politics currently seems unable to achieve, no matter how much creative support it attracts.
The plays were introduced, they were performed, they ended and we all drifted off into the night, without even ten minutes of debate about the vital issues raised. There are plenty more Theatre Uncut events across central Scotland over the next two weeks, from the shop front at the Central Hall, Tollcross this Wednesday afternoon, to the Forest Cafe in Bristo Place on 30 November and each of those events needs to feature a strong element of post-show discussion, if half the impact of these superb political plays – and of Theatre Uncut itself – is not to be lost.