IT’S difficult to imagine a better setting than MacArts in Galashiels for this latest touring show from the Highland-based company Right Lines. Written before Scotland’s latest floods, Rapid Departure is an 80-minute comedy set in a village hall turned rescue centre, after the local river bursts its banks; and since MacArts is a church right beside the Gala Water, now transformed into a community arts centre, the role fits it like a glove.
Rapid Departure | Rating: *** | MacArts, Galashiels
Grounded | Rating: **** | Byre Theatre, St Andrews
Some Other Stars | Rating: *** | Oran Mor, Glasgow
It’s difficult, though, to imagine any audience, anywhere, failing to warm to Euan Martin and Dave Smith’s jolly tale of how ageing volunteers Albert and Gloria – plus humble young council worker Eric – set about chivvying a church hall full of evacuated residents (willingly played by the audience) through a long night of limited rations, sing-songs, and party games. The plot is as feeble as they come, featuring Eric’s shy reluctance to propose to his gorgeous kayak-queen girlfriend.
Yet if the storyline creaks like an old church door, the dialogue bristles with cheeky, well-crafted one-liners that often compensate for the romantic clichés; and somewhere among the comedy, there’s some timely political argument about the real reasons for Scotland’s flood crisis, from climate change to poor land management.
And if Right Lines is a touring company from well outside the central belt, bringing us a show made for the moment we live in, then so – in its latest production – is the Hawick-based Firebrand Company, which has chosen to stage the first Scottish-made version of George Brant’s stunning monologue Grounded, a huge success on the Edinburgh Fringe of 2013. Played with impressive concentration and passion by Janet Coulson, the central character is an aggressive, hard-hitting female US fighter pilot who loves her uniform, her job, and her life up there in the blue; but who, after an unexpected pregnancy and the birth of her much-loved daughter, finds herself grounded.
She becomes part of the “chairforce”, the new breed of pilots who sit in desert hangars in Nevada or Arizona, driving drones that hover over deserts 10,000 miles away, searching out the sludgy grey images of the “guilty”, and ending their lives in a puff of grey dust. And Brant’s mighty solo drama, directed in supremely simple style by Richard Baron, with superb lighting by Simon Wilkinson, shows how the pressure of this new kind of “virtual” war gradually destroys the pilot’s mind, until the moment she begins to see her daughter’s face among the grey images on screen, and the chilling video game of 21st century warfare is finally over, at least for her.
For the pilot, a life that revolves around virtual reality is imposed by the logic of modern warfare; but for Ian, the central character in Clare Duffy’s Some Other Stars, a new A Play, A Pie And A Pint drama – the first of five, this season, that will transfer to the Traverse – a life lived through imagination and long-distance images becomes the only possible option, after a massive stroke leaves him with locked-in syndrome, unable to move a muscle except for a flick of the eyes, cut off for ever from real communication with his wife Cath and adored five-year-old daughter. There are no rules in theatre, and some plays which set out to educate and inform about poorly-understood medical syndromes – like last season’s Alzheimer’s play Descent, by Linda Duncan McLaughlin – make brilliant drama.
This time, though, Duffy’s play shifts uneasily between banal observation of the obvious about the disaster that has struck this young couple, and a kind of fantastical, self-conscious poetry that’s both jarring and undramatic; and although there are thoughtful performances from Martin McCormick as Ian and Kirstin Murray as Cath, not even a witty line in exploration of Cath’s erotic frustrations can inject much drama into a play that seems to have no sense of purpose, except the purely pragmatic one of drawing attention to a medical phenomenon that is also a personal tragedy.
• Rapid Departure at the McKillop Hall, Lochwinnoch, tonight, and on tour until 19 March.Grounded at the Byre Theatre, St Andrews, until 19 March. Some Other Stars at Oran Mor, today and at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Tuesday-Saturday next week.