Theatre review: The Ducky/Bliss/Mud

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There's much to enjoy in The Ducky, the second instalment – following last year's success with The Wall – of D.C. Jackson's thoughtful tale about growing up in small-town Ayrshire in the 1990s.

The Ducky is set beside a pool on the local river during two long summer days in the late 90's; and it would be wrong to imply that there's anything about the play that's going to set the countryside alight.

Nor does Jemima Levick's attractive production quite achieve the speed and kinetic grace of Gregory Thompson's version of The Wall, which dealt with the same cluster of characters at a younger and less sombre age.

In a sense, though, Jackson is like a low-key, 21st-century version of John Byrne, the influence of whose famous Slab Boys trilogy about growing up in 1950's Paisley he fully acknowledges. His dialogue lacks the sheer poetic power and brilliance that is Byrne's trademark, but he achieves the same sense of a huge world of global change glimpsed through honest, inspired and affectionate attention to local detail; he has the same power to keep audiences continuously engaged and entertained.

In Sally Reid, who plays the key role of wee sister Norma, he has found an actress who, at the heart of a fine ensemble, responds to the rhythm of his writing with near-perfect empathy, and huge theatrical flair.

At the Tron, meanwhile, Andy Arnold offers two blisteringly weird and interesting recent plays from North America, which also deal with trapped characters longing for escape.

Maria Irene Fornes's Mud offers a relatively familiar vision of lives stuck in a mire of rural ignorance, near-incest, and thoughtless male crushing of female hopes and dreams; but Andy Arnold's deftly-staged production – with fine lighting by Mark Hughes – does it proud, as do three vivid performances from Mark Prendergast, Grant Smeaton, and the wonderful Gabriel Quigley as Mae.

Olivier Choiniere's Bliss, though – from Quebec, in a brilliant English version by Caryl Churchill – is a much wilder, weirder, and more interesting show. In a sustained 60-minute chorus, Choiniere's play shows four ordinary people first inspired, then reduced to surreal extremes of suffering and decay, in a world dominated by fan-worship of their favourite singer, Celine. The critique of our crazed celebrity culture is searing, the writing is unforgettable; and Quigley gives another stunning performance as the character called Oracle, who suffers the sharpest decline from respectable fandom into utter horror.

The Ducky is at the Traverse, Edinburgh, 10-13 June, and on tour; Bliss and Mud are at the Tron, Glasgow, until 9 May.

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